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Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010


Triumph of faith and will

By Wednesday night, all 33 Chilean miners trapped 600-plus meters underground since a Aug. 5 mine collapse had been pulled up to safety through a vertical shaft specially constructed to accommodate a rescue capsule.

We congratulate them on their miraculous return from their more-than-two-month ordeal. Praise also goes to the engineers, medical personnel and other experts who took part in the against-all-odds rescue operation at the San Jose copper and gold mine in the Atacama desert in northern Chile.

The miners' will to live as well as the encouragement they gave each other as professionals enabled them to persevere in wretched, cramped conditions — including humid temperatures of 30 to 35 C. For many, religious faith contributed to their belief in their eventual rescue.

The first 17 days in which the miners were completely out of communication with the outside world were the hardest time for them. After their survival was confirmed Aug. 22 through a camera and a microphone, they started to receive hot meals. Until then, they had consumed only two spoonfuls of tuna and milk and a piece of cookie every 48 hours.

Families, friends and President Sebastian Pinera gave encouragement to the miners from the surface. The president flexibly mobilized resources in and outside of the country. Experts from the U.S. space agency NASA provided advice on how to support the trapped miners.

Shift foreman (and group leader) Luis Urzua played an important role in uniting the miners, whose ages ranged from 19 to 63 and who had different levels of experience. He divided the miners into three shifts — watching, resting and sleeping — and assigned them particular duties, such as patrolling, measuring oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations, and administering medical care. The fact that Mr. Urzua established a chain of command and that the miners were organized into a tightly knit team helped prevent them from feeling desperate or panicky.

Despite the personal and public joy over their miraculous survival, the ordeal must have left the miners with physical or psychological scars. We pray that they receive all the care they need to make a return to normal life. That could take some time.

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