On 5th, august 2010, the copper-gold mine of San José collapsed on 33 miners, trapping them at 700 m underground. Over the next 5 days, an estimated 1 billion people watched with bated breath, wondering if Los 33, as the 33 miners became known, would be rescued. But, thanks be to God as they would no doubt say, they were all rescued.
Mario Sepulveda, the energetic miner dubbed Super Mario for his energy, wit and humour said, “All 33 trapped miners, practicing a one-man, one-vote democracy, worked together to maintain the mine, look for escape routes and keep up morale. We knew that if society broke down we would all be doomed. Each day a different person took a bad turn. Every time that happened, we worked as a team to try to keep the morale up.”
Outside the mine also, everyone, from the Chilean president to the families of the miners, worked to ensure that “no one stayed under”. Music, bibles – the miners had daily prayers led by Jose Henriquez and religious counselling provided by Mario Gomez – food were all provided via a 5-inch wide hole and the items were graciously accepted. One item however caused a reticence, despite the desperate situation of the miner.
The item? Socks to help their cardio-vascular systems during the rescue operation. Others may have just been grateful that their ordeal of nearly 3 months was going to come to an end, and the miners were; but they would have preferred the socks in brown, or black. It took the authoritative voice of Dr. Andres Llarena for the miners to agree. But this initial refusal highlights the machismo culture in countries like Chile where despite the hardship and regardless of the desperation, the man has to be seen to be the man. As such, such men, miners to boot, could not be seen in pink, a “feminine” colour.
It was no doubt that machismo culture, which got Mario Sepulveda to say that the men had all “taken an oath of silence not to reveal certain details of what happened, particularly during the early weeks of desperation”.
Five years however, the psychological toll of being trapped underground for close to 3 months is being revealed. Many of the miners could not return to the mine, or any mine after the ordeal. Those who saw psychiatrists mention being addicted to the tablets, which were given to them. Furthermore, the promise of the government to investigate turned to nothing and most of the miners ended up with no compensation.
Machismo or not, Hollywood has knocked and we hope that more will be known about what went down in the mine when it collapsed.