Miner Mario Goméz on the day of discovery.

Miner Mario Goméz on the day of discovery.

Survival

With rocks still falling in the mine a day after the accident, rescuers entered the tunnel to clear debris and ventured down the ventilation shafts looking for a way around the collapse. But the mine proved too unstable for new excavations, and they returned to the surface to begin drilling.

As the days passed in silence, anguished families lingered near the mine entrance. The miners waited below, quickly running out of food.

Probing for Life

For two weeks, workers drilled day and night. Then, on August 22, they heard faint tapping and hurriedly extracted their equipment. Attached to the drill bit, they found what they had prayed for—a note from the miners.

Inside the mine, a shower of rocks burst from the ceiling as the drill bit cut through. The men hugged and ran around excitedly—a scene exuberantly replayed a half mile above. The next phase of the rescue had begun.


Above: President Piñera holds up the note found on the first drill bit to reach the refuge.

Bottom: Family members gather before a makeshift altar to hold Mass for the missing miners.

Waiting for Rescue

The bore holes became a lifeline between the miners and those on the surface. Food, water, and supplies went down to the men in metal and plastic tubes called palomas. Notes, and even dirty laundry, returned.

Rescuers set up three drilling operations using different technologies—a plan the Chilean government devised in case any of the drills failed. The Plan B operation broke through on day 65, two months earlier than first predicted.