Dec 7, 2015
The whole world watched as, one by one, thirty-three Chilean miners were hoisted out of the ground in a small narrow capsule back in October of 2010. The movie The 33 recounts the mine collapse and rescue 69 days later.
On the afternoon of Thursday, August 5, 2010 a massive cave-in occurred in the 121-year-old San Jose copper-gold mine. The entombed men became known as “Los 33” (The 33). They were trapped 2,300 feet underground, three miles from the mine’s only entrance with spiraling underground service ramps. It was 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the mine.
The mine owners ignored warnings of the mine’s instability. After the collapse, the mine owners did nothing but lock the gates. They made no attempt at a rescue. The owners knew they had left the miners no way to survive.
The collapse blocked the only road in or out of the mine. The miners managed to get to the rescue chamber. But they soon discovered that the radio wasn’t worth a damn, the medical kit was empty, the ventilation shafts lacked the required ladders, and there was very little stored food and water.
The movie powerfully depicts what the impact was for the miners. One miner, Mario Sepulveda, steps up to the plate and becomes their leader, dividing food in rations and stopping outbursts of violence or despair. At one point, one of the miners, Luis Urzua, the foreman, blames himself. Mario stops him, shouting, “If you want to blame someone, blame the owners!”
After about 18 days, rescuers drill a hole into the refuge. It’s not wide enough for the capsule, but it’s enough to get supplies down to the men. They are also able to communicate with their families.
The movie also shows the families and how they were instrumental in getting the government to step in and rescue the miners. Campamento Esperanza (Camp Hope) was the tent city that sprang up in the desert as families and others heard of the accident.
After 68 days, it took another 22 hours to extract all 33 miners on October 13th.
Chile is the world’s top producer of copper. An average of 34 people per year since 2000 have died in mining accidents in Chile. The mine operator, the San Esteban Mining Company (CMSE), was notorious for operating unsafe mines. Eight workers have died at the San Jose site in the past 12 years while CMSE was fined 42 times between 2004 and 2010 for breaching safety regulations. The mine was shut down temporarily in 2007 when relatives of a miner killed in an accident sued the company. But the mine reopened in 2008 despite non-compliance with regulations. San Esteban Mining Company was not charged with any crime in this latest incident.
The movie touches on many things, but mostly tells a compelling story.