COPIAPO, Chile — President Sebastian Pinera joined most of Chile’s 33 rescued miners at a celebratory Mass on Friday, a year after the San Jose mine collapsed, trapping the men a half-mile below the surface.
Several of the miners carried an image of the Virgin to the Candelaria cathedral in downtown Copiapo, a dusty mining city in Chile’s northern desert 31 miles (50 kilometers) from the isolated mine that has been closed since the miners were pulled out alive 69 days after their ordeal began.
The mine site became known as “Camp Hope” as family members and rescuers were joined by thousands of journalists feeding news of their fate to the world, but it is a desolate place now. Only rusted tubes remain as evidence of the remarkable effort to keep the men fed for months while escape tunnels were drilled.
When the overexploited mine collapsed Aug. 5, 2010, the miners and their families initially felt abandoned.
Rescuers scrambled to a chaotic scene and tried desperately to enter the creaking, shifting mine in hopes of finding a way down to the men.
Only after Pinera intervened and put a team of experts in charge did the rescue begin in earnest. It took 17 days — until Aug. 22, before a borehole reached the dark tunnel where the 33 men were becoming desperate, running out of food and hope.
“We had been fighting against ourselves, against our heads, against everything that had happened between the fifth and 22nd of August. This has marked us for life,” shift foreman Luis Urzua recalled in an interview with Associated Press Television News.
Urzua thanked Chile’s people for their prayers during the ordeal and he praised in particular the president “for saying yes, Chile can” in pursuing the miners’ rescue.
After an emotional homily by Copiapo’s archbishop, the miners and politicians went to the Regional Museum of Atacama, where Pinera returned to miner Jose Ojeda the note he wrote that changed everything that Aug. 22, providing the outside world with the first word that all the men had survived the collapse and were together down below.
“We’re all good in the refuge, the 33,” said the note, which Pinera has proudly carried around the world during presidential visits.
Now the piece of paper will have an honored place in the hometown of the miners.
APTN Cameraman Mauricio Cuevas contributed to this story.