Watching it live, an incredible rescue
Elaine Kolodziej is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or wilsoncountynews.com.
The collapse of the San Jose Mine in Chile on Aug. 5 and the subsequent successful rescue of all 33 miners was one of those riveting events that will go down in history. It was good news at its very best.
I found myself glued to the 24-7 news broadcasts. From the time the first rescuer went down in the crude man-size capsule to assist the trapped minors 2,000-plus feet below the earth, until the last person left the mine, I was intrigued, watching through the night.
The live shots from deep beneath the earth’s surface, were incredible. Not only could such a rescue happen, but technology allowed the world to see it as it happened. While the idea of cameras in the face of victims at such an event is repugnant, none of that happened. From start to finish, the operation was meticulously planned and beautifully. Citizens of Chile and all the countries which assisted, including the United States, should be proud of a job well done.
I watched, as the rescue operation was about to begin. There is so much hope, but yet there is so much that still could go wrong with the operation.
Slowly, cheers begin to rise from the crowds as family members, officials, and friends stood by. Medical teams were standing by as well, ready for any emergency as the first trapped miner is to be lifted from the shaft, rising from 2,041 feet below the earth’s surface. I didn’t want to blink for fear I would miss the moment. Everyone was hoping for the best, not wanting even to admit the possibilities of everything that could go wrong, from a panic attack or other health crisis on the long ride up, to something catastrophic going wrong with the rescue operation itself.
A large wheel at the mine's opening turned in with a sort of hoist and winch as ropes lowered the rescue capsule down into the mine and then back up to the earth's surface. It was a long, slow process, with one rescue taking a full hour, as all possible precautions were taken. Then there was silence. The wheel continued to move ever so slowly now.... No sign of concern, so it must be OK?
A 9-year-old boy awaits the first glimpse of a father that he has not seen for 69 days.
The tension is great, and anticipation is building. The wheel stops.
People crowd around. It is close. Prayers are going out. Here it is!!!!! YES!
Unbelievable. The capsule emerges and the first miner to be released, 31-year-old Florencio Avalos, father of two, is free at last. His family weeps. It takes what seems like an eternity before a thumbs-up goes out to the crowd. The miner is wearing special sunglasses to protect eyes that have not seen daylight for 69 long days. He hugs his family and son. The elation is evident.
It is a time-consuming ordeal to be repeated another 32 times before all the miners would be rescued, and then another few times more to bring back the rescue workers who had been lowered down with the capsule to assist in organizing the miners for their trip up to the earth’s surface.
Each rescue takes about 20 agonizingly long minutes to complete and then the capsule is painstakingly inspected and prepared for another 20-minute decent back into the mine. Together with the prep time, the rescue takes about an hour. As the day wore on, the process became more efficient and the time for each rescue was cut.
Meanwhile, the miners, one at a time as they emerged and greeted the crowd, were put on a stretcher and taken to triage before they would be hospitalized for tests. As of today all but possibly two have been released from the hospital.
This is an incredible story with a happy ending. After the mine collapse, it was to be 17 excruciating days before anyone even knew that the survivors were down there. The survivors somehow kept hope. Plans for their extrication began as soon as news reached authorities that they had, indeed, survived the horrible mine collapse.
Usually news is bad, but this was good news; very good news. It was the best.