Half a mile underground

Photo of the Day

Florencio Avalos, one of the 33 miners trapped in the San Jose collapsed mine, is seen on a television set near the mine in Copiapo, Chile, Aug. 26, 2010. Natacha Pisarenko, AP.

Florencio Avalos, one of the 33 miners trapped in the San Jose collapsed mine, is seen on a television set near the mine in Copiapo, Chile, Aug. 26, 2010. Natacha Pisarenko, AP.

33 Miners, Buried Alive for 69 Days

Almost half a mile underground, a group of Chilean miners hang on to hope. After 69 days, the longest period recorded for humans underground, the rescue capsule was ready. It took almost 24 hours but at 9.56pm on October 13 the last miner emerged. The rescue had cost about ?14million but as a banner at the site said, it was ?Mission accomplished, Chile.?

This is Their Story…

The ramp, the main tunnel in the San Jos? Mine in Chile?s Atacama Desert, begins about a mile above sea level near the top of a round, rocky mountain. From the 16-by-16-foot entrance, the Ramp corkscrews into the mountain through a series of gradually narrowing switchbacks. Men driving dump trucks, front loaders, and pickup trucks use the winding path to gather minerals collected by the workers who mine small passageways for ore-bearing rock.

On the morning of August 5, 2010, some men are working almost 2,500 feet below the surface, loading freshly blasted ore into a dump truck. Another group works about a hundred feet above them, fortifying a passageway, while still others are resting in the Refuge, a room carved out of the rock some 2,300 feet down. The Refuge, with its cinder block walls and heavy metal door, was supposed to be a shelter in the event of an emergency, but it also serves as a break room; fresh air is pumped in from the surface to offer respite from the heat.

A little after 1:00 p.m., Franklin Lobos is driving a pickup truck down to the Refuge, where a group of miners waits for a ride up to the surface for lunch. Another miner, Jorge Galleguillos, is riding with Lobos when, at about 2,000 feet below the surface, he suddenly says, ?Did you see that? A butterfly.?

?What? A butterfly? No, it wasn?t,? Lobos answers. ?It was a white rock.?

?It was a butterfly,? Galleguillos insists.

Lobos can?t believe a butterfly would flutter this far down in the dark. But he doesn?t argue. Suddenly, the two men hear a massive explosion. The passageway fills with dust as the Ramp collapses behind them, hitting the men as a roar of sound, as if a massive skyscraper is crashing.

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