Thursday, August 6, 2015

A happy anniversary

Five years ago, the world was about to witness an unbelievable journey of courage, determination and - ultimately - deliverance on a scale really never before seen. It was August 5, 2010, and 33 miners working in the San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile were digging for copper and gold in the Aticama Desert. This 112-year-old mine had a troubled past, and the miners knew every shift they went underground, something could happen. It was a risk the miners accepted because the pay was decent and the bond of friendship was strong.

While working 700 meters below the surface, a rumbling was felt, and on instinct the miners retreated to a refuge set aside for their protection. After the sounds ended, the initial efforts of the crew to assess their situation were grim. The passage to the surface was blocked, and there was no way to communicate to the world where they were or even that they were alive.

The initial efforts to find the miners
Above ground, mine workers feared the worst, yet held out hope that the miners could indeed be found alive. After all, the refuge was stocked with food and other important medical supplies. With these supplies, some level-headed thinking and perhaps a small miracle, the miners might be rescued.

Mine collapses by their very nature rarely have good outcomes. The Sago Mine disaster killed 12 in 2006. The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster killed 29 in 2010. The Farmington Mine disaster killed 78 in 1968.  Needless to say, people around the world said prayers, but kept their outlook realistic.

"All 33 of us are fine in the shelter."

Then, on day 17, the miracle the rescuers had hoped for happened. A drill pulled from a borehole had a note attached. The miners were alive.

Once the news hit the airwaves, the world's media descended on this tiny desert outpost to report on this amazing story. Not only was the mining company and the nation setting up one of the greatest rescue operations in the history of mining accidents, they had to set up a base camp for an army of reporters who were now arriving by the busload.

Reporters on the scene at the mining accident
Coverage went around the clock as a video camera was lowered to the miners at the end of a long cable. Reporters were able to get live video feeds of the miners. They got stories about how NASA was helping the miners by developing prescribed diets and proving engineering expertise. They had coverage of the non-stop prayer vigil held by the miners' families at the scene. And, they had the Chilean President at the site helping to tell the personal stories.

Rescue workers being lowered into the mine
The rescue plan took nearly two months to execute, and on October 12, the effort reached its climax. Paramedic Manuel Gonzalez was lowered down to the miners in the Phoenix rescue capsules to assess the condition of the men, and then the rescue effort began in earnest.

One by one, the miners were hauled to the surface. Slowly and cautiously at first, but as the bore hole proved to be solid, the pace increased. Each miner took his time to celebrate his first taste of freedom in his own way. Some kissed the ground, others hugged the first person they could find. Each was escorted off for a medical assessment until Luis Uruza, the miner's captain, shook the hand of President Sebastian Pinera and sang the national anthem.

They made it!
While the operational aspect of the rescue was something impressive, the Chilean government did a masterful job of managing what had to have been the most chaotic media operation every conducted. Nonstop worldwide media attention in the middle of a desert with minimal infrastructure, and they came out looking like heroes. Mission accomplished, Chile!

Oh, and this also marks another anniversary that maybe isn't so notable. However, it's important to me and I hope you as a reader. Yes, one year ago, I started writing the PIO Chronicles. I hope that the material I and others have written has helped make your jobs at least a little easier, or encouraged you to learn more about the craft. Let's hope year two is just as productive!

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida


  1. I seem to recall that the miners experienced different recovery phases after the rescue. Any more on that?

  2. Some did well, others had issues adjusting to life afterward.