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The ‘miracle’ of Atacama: 10 years after the rescue of the 33 miners


SANTIAGO.

He rescue does one of each of the 33 miners of Atacama, in the north of Chile, was developed “in the midst of great tension and with the adrenaline to full“, remember Manuel Gonzalez, he first rescuer who entered and the last one that came out of the mine.

Never before has a feat of this type: take out 33 miners caughts during 69 days To over 600 meters deep in the old San José mine, in full Atacama Desert.

Manuel González, an experienced volunteer rescuer who works at the El Teniente copper mine, was chosen to be the first to go down to the site on the day of the rescue: on October 13, 2010, when the eyes of the world turned to the small hole 66 cm wide where the 33 would come out one by one.

At the age of 46, Manuel undertook a rescue operation that, he admits, changed his life.

I experienced the birth of my two children and that was one of the special sensations that I felt when I got down there, a feeling of joy and anxiety. I am very sentimental and I had to stand firm not to break down, “says González from his home in the city of Rancagua, about 80 km south of Santiago.

In that first descent in the so-called “Fénix capsule”, four meters high and about 450 kilos in weight, it took 17 minutes to lower the 622 meters that separated the miners from the surface.

Most of them wept and were very moved, there were cheers of thanks, many religious people who knelt down; So it was very exciting for me, “González recalls at home, where he keeps some memories of the mine such as stones, the helmet and the gloves that he used in the operation.

In that first face to face with the miners he told them:

You have the broom (a revolution) up there. There are many people waiting for you and when you leave you will surely find thousands of flashes “.

But a new collapse shortly after starting the rescue added drama to an operation followed live by more than a billion viewers around the world, whose media impact was compared to the arrival of man on the Moon.

A one-ton rock fell off near the area where the miners were climbing into the capsule and “we had to go and close that sector and pass the other side when it was their turn to leave,” explains González.

Along with him, five other rescuers went down to the mine to examine the physical and mental state of the miners, and explain how the operation would be carried out.

Emotion in Hope

Outside the site, more than 3,500 people, including 2,000 journalists from around the world, awaited the outcome of this unique survival story at ‘Camp Hope’, initially set up by the miners’ families who were waiting for news, but who As the days went by, it became a small citadel, with a dungeon, a school and a restaurant.

María Segovia, sister of the miner Darío Segovia, was one of the first to arrive there to demand that the authorities rescue them alive. That is why she was nicknamed “the mayoress” of Camp Hope.

A decade later, Maria says there are many vivid memories.

The 33 left marked the days of my life, “he says, while looking through a book reminder of the accident at his home in the city of Antofagasta (north), where he sells fried empanadas at a street stall.

I always have it here remembering; I get very excited when I see it, “adds María.

Tension until the last minute

Hours before the rescue began, a huge flag was placed as a curtain to cover the place where the miners would emerge and thus protect their privacy. But it was President Sebastián Piñera himself who ordered that it be removed so that they could be seen by the world.

The first to be rescued was Florencio Avalos. Then Mario Sepúlveda, the most outgoing of the group.

Mario “spoke and exclaimed; when I got downstairs, he euphorically hugged me,” González recalls.

Luis Urzúa, the shift manager of the miners, was the last to go up. It took only eight minutes.

Manuel González and his five fellow rescuers waited a few more hours inside the mine, before leaving it as they found it, completing a successful and impeccable rescue operation.

Once outside and after being consulted by President Piñera, Manuel asked the president “that I hope there would never be a San José mine” in Chile.

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