This week marks the 5th anniversary of 33 Chilean miners from the San José Mine in the Atacama Desert.
The gold and copper mine collapsed on August 5, 2010, trapping the 33 miners over 2,300 feet underground. The miners had limited rations; there was only enough food for two days. They had no way to make contact with anyone on the surface. Though they had cellphones, there was no reception that far underground.
Rescue efforts began immediately and the story quickly became world news. The prospect of the miners being alive looked bleak. As days went on without any sign of life, everyone began to assume the worst. Sebastian Piñera, Chile’s then-President, had even began to plan a giant cross being resurrected to memorialize the miners.
It was on August 22, 2010 that the world breathed a collective sigh of relief after a drilling tool emerged from the earth with a note attached to it. All 33 miners were alive.
The discovery was only the beginning, as the daunting task of actually rescuing the miners now began. At least now rescuers were able to provide the miners with food, water, oxygen and other necessary supplies while they planned a rescue effort.
On October 13, 2010 just after midnight Florencio Avalos was the first miner to be brought to the surface. The miners were brought up one-by-one is the Phoenix capsule. 22 hours later, shift leader Luis Urzua was the last miner to emerge from the collapsed mine.
Following the rescue, the miners became their own brand of celebrity. They were invited to Disney World, were guests on talk shows, and even visited Jerusalem after Israel invited them for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Eventually public interest dwindled and the miners faded into obscurity.
Five years later the miners are still grateful for the incredible rescue, though they are not without psychological scars. Several miners are unable to hold down work due to the trauma of the incident and thus live off of a $500 per month government pension.
Jorge Galleguillos subsidizes his government pension by providing tours of the mine site for donations. He hopes to keep the miners story alive by collecting mementos of their time underground. The 61-year-old still experiences nightmares that jar him awake in the middle of the night.
“I’m alive thanks to God. That’s the important thing. But I should be doing better. I should be doing better,” he said
Alex Vega also struggles with psychological trauma after his experience in the mine. He, like many of the miners, receives mental health help.
“The psychiatrist tells me that I’ve improved a lot … from where I was initially,” Vega said.
Vega chooses to keep busy so that his mind is never idle. After working a long day as a mechanic, Vega can often be found working well into the night on a new home for his family.
A lengthy investigation into the mine collapse took place after the rescue. In 2013 it was determined that there was not enough evidence to press criminal charges.
Though the 33 miners still face challenges today, they are grateful for their miraculous rescue. They serve as a testament to what the human spirit can accomplish on faith and will.