Five years after Chilean mine collapse, miners and rescue workers recount miracles
Miners say there was a higher power helping them survive
Miners were rescued 69 days after collapse
Editor’s Note: Five years ago on October 13, the 33 miners who became trapped in a Chilean mine were brought to safety.
When Chile’s San Jose mine collapsed on August 5, 2010, people around the world were fixated on the fate of the 33 miners trapped 2,300 feet underground.
The miners would end up spending 69 days below the Earth’s surface before rescuers brought them all to safety. As everyone celebrated the rescue of the 33 miners, many pointed to a higher power – a 34th miner – who they say was with them all along.
In the aftermath of the rescue, those involved have recounted seemingly inexplicable miracles during their time underground and credited God with protecting them. God, many of them say, was the 34th miner.
Jorge Galleguillos, a miner from Copiapo, Chile, recalled making the sign of the cross in front of an image of the Virgin Mary that had been placed near the entrance to the mine. The miners asked her for protection every shift before descending into the lower levels of the mine.
A comforting presence
The day of the collapse, like any other day, Galleguillos paid his respects to the Virgin Mary and headed into the mine.
During this particular shift, Galleguillos said he heard warning cracks but continued working. He recalled seeing something like a “white species … a butterfly” falling diagonally in the mine “like a paper.”
It was likely a bit of white quartz, but in local culture, a white animal is a sign that God is present.
As the mine began to rumble and dust filled the air, Galleguillos said he envisioned his 6-day-old grandson in his arms and his mother standing in front of him.
“I am not going to see my mother again. I’m not going to meet my grandson,” he thought.
Galleguillos said he is not particularly religious. Still, even as it seemed the worst was ahead, he said he felt God’s presence.
In the five years since the mine collapse, Galleguillos said he is more thankful than ever.
“There aren’t words to continue thanking God enough,” he told CNN’s Rosa Flores in a recent interview.
A rationing of resources
Alex Vega, a second-generation miner, had been suffering from a gastric ulcer for a couple of months when the miners became trapped.
As always, he had his pills in his backpack. Three of them. He divided them into four parts each so he could take a piece each day.
The fact that there was very little food only made his symptoms worse, and at this point, they had no idea when or if they would be rescued.
The miners ate one can of tuna per day, splitting each can between the 33 of them.
“You have to have faith,” Galleguillos said. “You can never lose your faith. Faith is nourishment … Faith is life.”
Faith, even without hope
Shift foreman Luis Urzua was the first person to be heard once verbal contact was made with the miners. His first words were, “We are well and hoping that you will rescue us.”
Urzua said he doesn’t believe in luck, but he does believe in faith – even when it seems like there is no hope.
“The devil couldn’t do anything because God was present,” he said.
Urzua recounted a time in the mine when one of his colleagues became ill. The prayers of the other miners, Urzua said, healed him.
“We made a prayer, we prayed in front of him,” he said. “The next day, he was better. … He was doing better than all of us.”
That power of prayer stayed with the miners throughout their time underground.
“When we prayed, we didn’t pray to get rescued; we prayed for the people outside not to abandon us,” he said.
It was another answered prayer.
Rescue resumes inexplicably
After weeks of drilling, the rescuers were getting closer to the miners. Then, the drill halted, just feet from reaching the miners. There was no forward or backward motion.
“It’s like, did we come this far and go through all this? And this damn thing is stuck here,” said Richard Soppe, a manager with Center Rock Inc.
Then, without any effort from the rescuers, there was a pop, and it started moving again.
Brandon Fisher, owner of Center Rock, led a team of drilling experts to help free the miners.
“I remember there was a loud bang on the backside of the control panel,” Fisher said. “Everyone just kind of stopped at one point in time and looked around.”
“We still don’t know what that noise was,” he said.
Ariel Ticona, a miner and expectant father at the time, said that when he heard the drill bit break through, he knew “that was by the hand of God that the miracle was done.”
While trapped, Ticona became a father to a baby girl, Esperanza, which means hope.
Jonathan Franklin, author of “33 Men: Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners,” said Esperanza’s birth was a miracle because she gave hope to the miners. She gave their dream of rescue a face.
Rescuing the miners
After much preparation and prayer, the final leg of the rescue began.
Florencio Avalos was the first miner to emerge. He was pulled to the surface in a 22-inch wide capsule.
Celebrations broke out, but the rescuers and miners faced the reality that 32 more miners needed the same miracle to live.
One after the other, they were rescued.
Vega said he hugged and kissed his wife like he was never going to let her go.
Ticona met his new daughter Esperanza in the hospital.
Urzua said God saved all 33 miners for a reason, but he’s been asking himself why since the rescue.
“Today, everywhere we turn, there is misery, hunger, terrible natural events,” Urzua said, speculating about God’s motive to rescue them. “We have to care for our environment, care for our children, so that they have a better life, we give them the best.”
After the rescuers returned home, they studied the science of the rescue.
“These tools should not have been able to bend and go around some of these curves. I mean, there’s no question in my mind that the faith of God, and the faith of the world praying for these guys to get rescued was a huge factor,” Fisher said. “Science, know-how, and will were applied, but at the end of the day, the big guy had everything to do with this rescue being successful. I believe that wholeheartedly.”