Chile’s Atacama Desert, miners risk their lives and
lungs when they descend deep into the earth to extract
copper and gold from a 100-year-old mine.
August 2010, a mountain shifted, causing a massive
explosion and trapping 33 men in the San Jose Mine in
Copiapo. Blocking the workers’ path was a 770,000-ton
rock that was twice the weight of New York’s Empire
State Building. The blue-gray volcanic rock also was
twice as hard as granite. The shift supervisor, Luis
Urzua, compared it to the stone placed over Jesus’
these men endured darkness right out of Dante’s
Inferno, paralyzing fear, stifling heat and extreme
hunger is an inspiring tale of survival and teamwork
woven by Hector Tobar, a journalist and novelist, in
"Deep Down Dark."
a 52-year-old Los Angeles native, was part of a team of
reporters that won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of
riots in Los Angeles in 1992. As bureau chief in Buenos
Aires, Argentina, and Mexico City for The Los Angeles
Times, Tobar explored Latin America. In 1962, his
parents emigrated from Guatemala to the U.S. while the
Cuban missile crisis dominated the news.
who had exclusive access to the miners, conducted
hundreds of hours of interviews. The men survived for 69
days by organizing themselves into work crews, rationing
canned tuna by the spoonful, eating cookies and praying
daily. They also agreed that they would sell their story
and divide the proceeds. "The 33," a movie
about their ordeal based on Tobar’s book, stars
Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche and opens
nationwide on Nov. 13.
fact that all 33 men survived is miraculous; rescuers
who labored around the clock knew their efforts had less
than a 1 percent chance of success. On the 17th day of
their confinement, a drill bit broke through and a
handwritten message, attached to it, was heard around
the world: "We are well in the refuge. The
refuge, a room that held 30 men, was where the miners
slept, ate, argued and told stories.
Pennsylvanians recall the rescue of nine men from
Somerset County’s Quecreek Mine in July 2002. Those
miners were 240 feet underground. The Chilean miners,
Tobar said during a telephone interview, were 2,000 feet
same type of cylindrical steel capsule used to free men
from the Quecreek Mine was used in Chile, too. On Oct.
9, 2010, American miner Jeff Hart and members of his
drilling crew were less than a foot away from reaching
the Chilean miners. The 33 men were freed Oct. 13.
miners — who went to work to support their wives,
children and girlfriends — didn’t arrive home at 9 o’clock
for dinner, disrupting the normal domestic routines of
the men coped in various ways. Victor Segovia kept a
diary. A tearful Omar Reygadas walked away to the cab of
a front loader to cry in private, then summoned his
strength. Jose Henriquez led the men in prayer. The
scrappy Mario Sepulveda emerged as a leader, telling his
co-workers, "The only thing I do is live."
them, a camp made up of family members gathered,
including their leader, Maria Segovia, who told Chile’s
minister of mining that she was not leaving without her
younger brother, Dario.
a single eloquent sentence, Tobar described the lesson
of Maria’s life: "You defend your humanity with
patience and determination, by making your voice heard
to those who judge you a lesser being for your timeworn
clothes, your callused hands and your sunburned
people from Latin America who grow up in poverty in the
U.S. feel stigmatized by that experience, but it can
also be a source of strength, the author said.
the mountain shifted, no one knew if the men were alive
or dead. At Camp Esperanza, or Camp Hope, a carnival
atmosphere ruled. A clown entertained the children,
bands played music and celebrities appeared.
became a spectacle. The government was aware that people
were watching. They helped to create this spectacle,
too. They transmitted the first images" of the
miners, Tobar said.
he was offered the opportunity to write the men’s
story, the author was thrilled because he has spent his
whole career writing about working people.
women were allowed in the mine. But everybody went into
the mine for a woman — a wife, sister, daughter or
mother. It was about this passion for family,"
saw the capacity of human beings to heal themselves and
to use the strength that they have from their culture
and their experience to survive even the most extreme