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10 great escapes

By: MNN Admin on Oct. 12, 2010, 4:39 p.m.
trapped Chile miners

Photo: Chile's Presidency/AP

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Chile's trapped miners

On Aug. 5, 2010, a copper and gold mine in Chile caved in, trapping 33 miners 2,300 feet underground. Rescue workers descended into the mine two days later, but were forced to abandon their route when a fresh cave-in blocked the duct, so they began drilling holes in an attempt to locate the miners. Seventeen days later they were rewarded with tapping noises and a note tied to the drill that read, "The 33 of us in the shelter are well."

Realizing the miners could be trapped until Christmas, Chile asked NASA for advice, and a strict schedule of exercise, nutrition and entertainment was developed to prepare the miners mentally and physically for the months ahead. Known in Chile as "Los 33," the miners ate 2,220 calories a day, but also exercised to stay slim enough to fit through the rescue hole. While they watched 13 hours of television a day, they were denied handheld video games and personal music players to avoid isolation.

Workers finished drilling an escape shaft Oct. 9, and after reinforcing it with metal, a capsule named "Phoenix" was lowered inside on the night of Oct. 12. It resurfaced just after midnight with 31-year-old Florencio Avalos, the first miner out, to a raucous welcome from family, rescuers and supporters. The process continued with no major problems past sunrise and throughout the day, as miners were pulled up one by one, each greeted by an eruption of cheers. Shift foreman Luis Urzúa, 54, who was credited with keeping the miners alive those first few weeks before they were found, was the 33rd and final one rescued at about 10 p.m. on Oct. 13. "We've done a good job," he said in Spanish after stepping out of the Phoenix. "Seventy days of the fight were worth it. We had the guts to fight."