Tears of relief and shouts of joy rang out last week at the San Jose mine in northern Chile as 33 miners were lifted to freedom, one by one. The men, ranging from 19 to 63 years old, have been buried alive since a cave in the copper and gold mine they were working collapsed on August 5. It is the longest time anyone has ever survived being trapped underground.
After the collapse, the men found an emergency shelter off one of the mine's tunnels. The temperature in the dark shelter was around 90°F. For more than two weeks, the miners' water came from the radiator tanks on their work vehicles. They shared a supply of food that was meant to last for only 48 hours.
The miners were totally isolated until rescue teams made contact with the men on August 22. They sent a note to the surface explaining their situation. Rescuers drilled small holes to reach the cavern and sent down supply tubes containing food, water, clothes, medicine, fresh air and other supplies. They also received letters from their families, a television set and games.
A Complicated Rescue
Additional collapses slowed down rescue efforts. Finally, a tunnel was built that could fit a 13-foot rescue capsule, called the Phoenix. The escape hole measures 28 inches across, a tight fit for the twisting 20-minute, 2,041-foot ride. The first miner reached the surface just after midnight on Wednesday. The rescue mission was faster than expected, and all 33 men had been brought to safety by late the same day.
The miners were met by family members who were waiting at Camp Hope, a settlement of tents near the mine. Chile's president, Sebastián Piñera, cheered at the scene and hugged the miners. "We made a promise never to surrender, and we kept it," he said. After an immediate medical exam, the men were air-lifted to the nearest hospital for 48 hours of observation.