In probably one of the most nail biting rescues in modern-day history, the world watched rapt as the 33 Chilean miners reached the surface safely yesterday.
In spite of allegations earlier this week that some broadcasters were providing excessive coverage of the rescue, the age of live internet streaming and Twitter succeeded in uniting support worldwide for the Chilean miners and their families.
The miners have been trapped underground for over two months after a rockfall caused a tunnel at the San José mine to collapse on 5 August. The miners have survived by receiving food, water and other supplies down a borehole.
Many of the men’s family and friends set up camp near the mine and the media has been covering events closely. It is remarkable how the lives of these 33 ordinary men have now become public knowledge, not only on a national, but an international scale.
President Sebastián Piñera was present from the very beginning of the excavation operation and has received a number of phone calls from heads of state around the world. On the telephone with David Cameron, he thanked the British Prime Minister for his call. “Let’s share a cup of tea next week when I am in London,” he added, smiling.
As the operation proceeded successfully, the air of tension gradually changed to excitement as we were greeted with scenes of jubilation and it seemed increasingly likely that all of the miners would be rescued and brought to safety. “Vamos, Vamos, Vamos!” (Go, go, go!) yelled Mario Sepúlveda, the second miner to be rescued, as he neared the surface. He handed out stones to the rescue team as souvenirs.
Despite a dent in the “Phoenix” capsule’s door, the elaborate operation progressed well and mining minister Laurence Golborne reportedly said that the rescue had gone much faster than expected. The last miner, 54-year-old Luis Urzua, emerged at the top of the rescue shaft at 21 55 yesterday local time. The last rescue worker Manuel González was lifted to safety at 00 55 this morning local time. The entire operation took just over 24 hours to complete – less than half that originally expected.
There are of course concerns over the men’s health and psychological well-being after being stuck underground for such a long period of time. They are due to remain in the nearby Copiapó hospital for at least 2 days as doctors run a number of medical and psychological tests on them. Many of the men are believed to be suffering from severe dental problems.
It’s been a tough year for Chile, having suffered an earthquake registering 8.8 on the Richter scale and the large-scale Mapuche hunger strike. So it’s about time that the country had a reason to celebrate.