Author(s): Jonathan Franklin
On 12 October 2010 the world’s attention was fixed on a remote copper mine in the Atacama desert in Chile. Final preparations were underway for a daring rescue to bring to an end the longest underground entrapment in human history. 69 days earlier, 33 men were midway through a routine shift, deep in the San Jose mine. They stopped for their lunch break at the tiny safety shelter, 688 meters below the surface. Ten minutes later they heard an almighty crack and a deep rumbling sound. Clouds of dust and debris poured down on the choking men. The bombardment lasted for five hours. When it finally cleared the men began to explore the 6km of underground tunnels, caves and dead ends – only to discover they were trapped under tonnes of collapsed rock. They survived on the most meagre of rations believing an attempt to rescue them was underway: a spoonful of tuna fish and a half glass of milk every 48 hours. But as days turned to weeks, hope began to fade and as starvation set in, they prepared for a slow and agonizing death. 17 days after the collapse a drill finally reached them, they sent a note back to the surface: ‘all 33 of us are well inside the shelter’. Now a 700 meter-long tunnel, the width of an orange connected them to the surface. Above ground at ‘Camp Hope’ the rescue team now included hundreds of geologists, engineers, psychologists, as well as the families of the men. Three separate rescue missions were launched, but hit one setback after another. 10 weeks after the collapse, and with the world watching, all 33 men would be brought safely to the surface. The 33 is the remarkable story of their 10-week incarceration, half a mile below the surface – and the epic rescue mission which finally brought them back to life.
Jonathan Franklin is an award-winning journalist who reported from the front line of the Chilean mine disaster for the Guardian, the Washington Post and the Sydney Morning Herald. As the only print journalist with front row access to the rescue efforts, he was allowed to attend planning meetings, private conversations with the miners, and to have practically unlimited time with the lead doctor and the lead psychologist. He was also the first journalist to secure an interview with the leader of the miners, foreman Luis Urzua. He has lived in Chile for 16 years.