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  HOME | Chile

Chilean Miners Mark 5th Anniversary of Rescue

COPIAPO, Chile – Five years ago the bells of Copiapo, a mining city in Chile’s Atacama Desert, rang out jubilantly because the 33 men who had been trapped underground for more than two months were being rescued safe and sound.

Several of the miners have returned to the city to relive that epic at the same mine that buried them.

The 70 days they were trapped 700 meters (2,300 feet) down a mineshaft changed the lives of the 32 Chilean miners and their Bolivian colleague radically and forever. Some still suffer the effects of that traumatic experience. Others try to overcome it. None can forget it.

“If I were rich, I’d spend all my money on going back to being the way I was before. It totally changed my life, but to pure suffering,” Victor Zamora, known as the miner poet, told EFE.

Zamora managed to write 180 poems, many of them dedicated to his son who was 4 years old at the time, and to his wife who was three months pregnant, when he was trapped underground.

While his son plays at “getting the miners out,” Victor confesses that he would like to go down the San Jose mine once again, though it has remained closed since the rescue and he still has nightmares about “the day the ridge began to crack and rocks fell.”

In 2013, Atacama prosecutors dismissed charges against mine owners Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny, and closed the investigation that had been opened because of the accident.

Today the proprietors are trying to sell the 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of land where the gold and copper mine is located.

The miners had spent 17 days since the cave-in at the place where the rescuers’ exploratory drilling finally reached them on Aug. 22.

They had almost no food or water but a lot of dust and carbon monoxide. The miners banged on the metal probe with their tools, daubed paint on it and tied 10 messages to it, including the now legendary “We are well in the shelter, the 33 of us,” written by Jose Ojeda.

While outside the mine the race was on to make the miraculous rescue a reality, down below the days dragged on.

As a welcome distraction, a small video projection system was lowered to the miners through the bore hole.

They all retain a special affection for their rescuers.

“Those wonderful people fought hard for 70 days to get us out of the hell we were in,” said Claudio Yañez, who also praised then-President Sebastian Piñera “because he did everything humanly possible.”

From the movie “The 33,” currently screening internationally, the miners will receive not a penny until two or three years from now when the producers have recovered their investment and share out the profits.


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