Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hope & faith prevail as Chile miners saved

After nearly 69 days trapped beneath the Earth, 33 miners of a gold and copper mine in Chile have been successfully brought to the surface in what has been the biggest rescue mission in mining history. After weeks of tunnelling the final stage of the operation to free the miners began. Experts from more than a dozen countries had worked together in making it possible to bring the miners safely back to the surface. The shaft was finally completed last week but further tests had to be carried out to make sure the sides were strong enough. After a few dry runs of the Fenix 2 capsule, it was finally lowered to the cavern. A rescue worker, Manuel Gonzalez, descended to oversee the operation at around 23:20 local time [02:20 GMT]. After a tense 50 minutes, and after more than 68 days underground, the first of the trapped miners emerged. To tears and cheers from family, friends and rescue workers, 31 year old Florencio Antonio Avalos Silva was finally free from what had become his subterranean home since August 5th.  finally began late on Tuesday evening in Chile.

As the final leg of the operation started late Tuesday evening in Chile's Atacama desert, news channels around the world provided saturation coverage throughout the night. By the morning six miners had been winched to the surface. With each passing hour another miner was on his way to be checked over by medical staff. Yet despite their ordeal the rescued miners looked well. The oldest amongst them, 63 year old Mario Gomez smiled and punched the air in victory as he was taken from the mine by paramedics. His wife shed tears of joy as he held her hand and affectionately stroked her face. It was the families who had perhaps suffered the most in terms of emotional stress, not knowing whether they would see their loved ones again.

Every development was covered by news channels. Television stations showed dramatic pictures from within the mine of each worker being strapped into the rescue capsule before being winched the 700 metres to the surface. As the Fenix 2 capsule was hoisted a video camera captured pictures of the journey up along the shaft. And as every miner reached the opening cameras zoomed in to see them emerge.

This has been an epic journey, and the world's media has been following the attempt to reach the miners from day one. More than 2,000 journalists, media crews and photographers are situated at Campamento Esperanza [Camp Hope] at the San Jose Mine in Copiapó, Chile. They had come to the remote desert location from Japan, Australia, Europe and the Americas, 300 organisations and 40 countries in all. Richard Beeston of the London Times described it as a major human interest story which had captivated people everywhere. CNN described it as "a good news story in a world of terrible events" while the BBC called it "a fundamentally good news story." But this rescue is sadly an exception to the rule. In China, scores of workers die every year in coal mine disasters. And even developed countries have seen tragedies. Earlier this year 29 men died in an explosion at a mine in West Virginia, the worst in US history since 1970. But it was not an isolated incident. In 2007, 6 miners and three rescuers were killed in collapses at the Crandall Canyon mine in Emery County, Utah. Twelve died after a methane explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia the year before and five others were killed only months before at the Kentucky Darby No. 1 Mine in Harlan County. More than 60 others perished in the previous two decades [Mining accidents].

Media coverage

While many stations ran continuous coverage of the events on the ground others only occasionally dipped in to show ongoing developments. Sky News, broke away only for commercial breaks and along with the BBC News Channel and BBC World showed a split screen as Prime Minister's Questions began in parliament. CNN too only cut away only for an occasional commercial break. Euronews also provided almost uninterrupted coverage.

There were some stations that did not give the same degree of saturation coverage however. Financial markets did not stop because of the rescue and Bloomberg and CNBC both continued with regular programming. CCTV News provided a continuous update via a small screen popping up as each miner was rescued as did France 24. Al Jazeera, Press TV and Russia Today provided only an information strap though the rescue did feature as the top news story. There was no strap running on NHK World, broadcasting from Japan, though the story did top news bulletins.

BBC Five Live initially gave continuous coverage and the story also featured high on the schedule on the BBC World Service. However, a few hours into the rescue, there was little coverage on the radio.

The BBC, Sky and CNN differed slightly in their coverage. Sky News had a count running in the top left of the screen showing the number of miners rescued and those still left in the mine. Meanwhile a strap rolled by at the bottom of the screen giving further information. Only UK time was displayed on Sky and BBC News, though all channels did occasionally update viewers of local time in Mexico. CNN did not have clock displayed and along with the BBC had only a number displayed showing the number of those having been freed.

There was something riveting about the rolling news coverage. Even if the pictures were a little repetitive, there were inspiring moments. The perseverance of those trapped and the human spirit that allowed them to hang on throughout the last 69 days. As each miner emerged there were cheers of jubilation and world leaders joined in the congratulatory messages. Chile's President Pinera was filmed at one point talking to British Prime Minister David Cameron on the phone and thanked him for his support. "We will never forget this night," President Pinera said. "David, thank you very much for your kind words and we are also following your inspiring .. and next week we will be in Downing Street Number 10 visiting and we'll be sharing a cup of tea."

The operation was meticulous. After every winching the capsule was checked. And nothing was rushed with each mission taking more than 30 minutes. Nonetheless the operation went quicker than expected. The first miner arrived at the surface at 0:10 local time [03:10 GMT] and by 11:00 [14:00 GMT] there had been 13 freed. Sixteen men had been rescued by 13:00 local time [16:00 GMT] Daniel Herrera, the sixteenth miner had reached the top of the shaft.

There was however, a long way to go with another 17 yet to reach the outside world. It was loyalty, patriotism and a strong faith in God that helped the miners through the long weeks underground. This was evident as each miner came to the surface and rescuers chanted, "Chi, Chi, Chi, le, le, le, Viva Chile!" and "Chi, Chi, Chi, le, le, le. Los mineros de Chile y de Dios" ["Chi, Chi, Chi, le, le, le. The miners of Chile and of God."]. Even after their rescue, for some the ordeal has only just begun. Many will suffer from post traumatic stress as well as ongoing physical problems. Some will undoubtedly enter different careers. Many will be fearful of entering a mine again. They have been described as heroes and it is likely that many will write of their experience and appear on television shows. Some, such as Mario Sepulveda Epinace, have though spoken of not wanting to be treated as anything other than a miner and a worker. There is also a strong possibility of a movie given the excitement it generated around the world even amongst broadcasters themselves. "Isn't that amazing, .. isn't this incredible to be watching this 2000ft below the ground .. never before has mankind rescued anyone from these depths," Jon Snow exclaimed on Channel Four News, "Gosh!"

Remaining issues

There are issues still to be addressed and one is that of safety and procedures. President Pinera has already assured that these would be addressed. As for the many millions of dollars the operation has cost he said it was worth every cent. "It does not matter how much it cost, it was worth it," he told the BBC. "Chile is a country that is more respected than before this rescue effort," he added. But he conceded there were still problems that his country had to solve, least of all the poverty that exists in his country.

It is with hope that the story ends as Campamento Esperanza is finally disbanded. As the penultimate miner arrived on the surface he hugged his wife and looked forward to meeting his newborn child they have named Esperanza, the Spanish word for hope. The rescue has certainly gone better than anyone could have hoped. The drilling of the hole and the extraction were both well ahead of schedule. And all the miners were rescued without major injury. After meeting the president and singing the national anthem, the last miner to emerge, Luis Urzúa said, "I hope this does not happen again." One can only hope [Copiapó mining accident / CNN / BBC].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

List of those trapped and the time they arrived at the surface

1st Florencio Antonio Ávalos Silva, 31 [03:10 GMT] 00:10
2nd Mario Sepúlveda Epinace, 39 [04:10 GMT] 01:10
3rd Juan Illanes Palma, 51 [05:07 GMT] 02:07
4th Carlos Mamani Solis, 23 [06:11 GMT] 03:11
5th Jimmy Sánchez Lagues, 19 [07:11 GMT] 04:11
6th Osmán Araya, 30 [08:22 GMT] 05:35
7th José Ojeda Vidal, 46 [09:22 GMT] 06:22
8th Claudio David Yáñez Lagos, 34 [10:04 GMT] 07:04
9th Mario Gómez, 63 [11:00 GMT] 08:00
10th Alex Vega Salazar, 31 [11:53 GMT] 08:53
11th Jorge Hernan Galleguillos, 56 [12:31 GMT] 09:31
12th Edison Fernando Pena, 34 [13:13 GMT] 10:13
13th Carlos Barrios Contreras, 27 [13:55 GMT] 10:55 local
14th Víctor Zamora Bugueno, 33 [14:32 GMT] 11:32
15th Víctor Segovia Rojas, 48 [15:08 GMT] 12:08
16th Daniel Herrera, 27 [15:50 GMT] 12:50
17th Omar Reygadas, 56 [16:39 GMT] 13:39 local
18th Esteban Rojas, 44 [17:49 GMT ]14:49 local
19th Pablo Rojas Vilacorta, 45 [18:28 GMT] 15:28 local
20th Darío Arturo Segovia Rojo, 48 [18:59 GMT] 15:59 local
21st Yonni Barrios, 50 [19:31 GMT] 16:31 local
22nd Samuel Ávalos Acuna, 43 [20:04 GMT] 17:04 local
23rd Carlos Bugueño, 27 [20:33 GMT] 17:33 local
24th José Henríquez, 54 [20:59 GMT] 17:59 local
25th Renán Ávalos, 29 [21:24  GMT] 18:24 local
26th Claudio Acuna, 56 [21:51 GMT] 18:51 local
27th Franklin Lobos, 53 [22:18 GMT] 19:18 local
28th Richard Villarroel, 23 [22:45 GMT] 19:45 local
29th Juan Carlos Aguilar, 49 [23:13 GMT] 20:13 local
30th Raúl Bustos, 40 [23:37 GMT] 20:37 local
31st Pedro Cortez Contreras, 24 [0:02 GMT] 21:02 local
32nd Ariel Ticona, 29 [0:28 GMT] 21:28 local
33rd Luis Urzúa, 54 [0:55 GMT] 21:55 local

Rescue Team who descended to mine to oversee operation: 
Manuel González / Roberto Ríos / Patricio Robledo / Jorge Bustamante / Patricio Sepúlveda

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