People around the world put aside their differences and were transfixed by images from a mine in Chile on Wednesday. The images of miners — trapped deep inside the earth for more than two months — emerging from an escape capsule reminded us of the power of the human spirit and technological innovation.
The miners’ miracle story began Aug. 22, when a small hole was drilled into the area of the collapsed gold and copper mine where the men had taken refuge. It was unknown whether the 33 men, trapped nearly a half-mile underground, were alive after an Aug. 5 collapse at the San Jose mine. First tapping and then a note let anxious families at the surface — and the rest of the world — know the men had survived 17 days underground and out of contact with the world. They subsisted on food meant to last only two days.
The men, ranging in age from 19 to 63, were told their rescue could take until Christmas, as an escape route was drilled and special capsules were built for the operation.
The first miner was brought to the surface early Wednesday morning.
From the U.S. to the Middle East, the rescue was broadcast live on television. It was even carried by Iran’s English-language television station.
In intervals of about 40 minutes, the remaining miners — wearing sunglasses to shield their eyes from the unfamiliar light — emerged one at a time in the crowded Camp Hope, the large cluster of trailers and tents that housed family members and hundreds of media. They were met by cheers, tears and hugs from family members and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.
One miner spoke of the joy of seeing the stars during his early morning rescue. Another handed out rocks he had collected in the mine. One faced the prickly situation of greeting his mistress after his wife found out about his affair.
The last miner to emerge was Luis Urzua, the 54-year-old foreman of the crew.
Not to be overlooked are the six rescue workers who were lowered into the mine to tend to the miners before they were raised to the surface. They were last to leave the cavern.
While the saga highlighted the continuing dangers of mining — for one of the miners this was his third time being trapped underground — it also showcased technological innovation.
“It was 75 percent engineering and 25 percent a miracle,” topographer Macarena Valdes told The Wall Street Journal. She helped guide a drill probe that reached the men on Aug. 22.
It is reassuring to know that some, when pushed to the limits of humanity, can rally together and beat the odds, and that engineering prowess — and luck — can make previously unthinkable rescues possible. Better yet, of course, is to improve mine safety and regulations to prevent accidents like the collapse from happening in the first place. The mine miracle reveals a truth that most of us suspect is buried deep below all our conflicts — when we work together, across all sorts of borders, we can save each other.