NEW YORK, Feb. 14, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- The dramatic plight and rescue of thirty-three entombed Chilean miners in the summer and fall of 2010 captured the hearts and imaginations of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Not since the first man walked on the moon was an entire world so captivated by a technical challenge. By the time the men were freed—after being trapped below ground for almost ten weeks, in 92 degree heat, 95 percent humidity at a depth seven times the height of the Statue of Liberty—the number of hits on Google for "Chilean" and "miners" reached twenty-one million. The number of registered journalists who flocked to the site to cover the story hovered at two thousand. For acres, the rocky hillside near the mine was blanketed by motor homes, tents, satellite dishes, plywood broadcast platforms, and, increasingly, the cream of the international press. Despite all the attention directed at the drama that had become a daily staple in the world's news and entertainment diet, the full story of the miners, how they survived trapped deep underground, and the rescue operation that ultimately brought them to the surface, has never been revealed. Until now.
33 MEN: Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners (Putnam; February 14, 2011), by the award-winning international journalist Jonathan Franklin, is a definitive account of one of the longest human entrapments ever, told by a reporter with unrivaled access. Many of the scenes and interviews in this extraordinary chronicle were not available to the thousands of journalists forced to report from behind police lines at the mine, far removed from the action. Franklin's status as a "local" (he has lived in Chile for sixteen years, speaks Spanish like a Chilean, is married to a Chilean artist and has six Chilean-American daughters) allowed him access other journalists could only dream of. Equally important, he was granted a Rescue Team credential that allowed him to roam the front lines of the operation as it unfolded and maintain unique and unprecedented access directly to the miners, their families, and their rescuers. The result is an absorbing, comprehensive, and authoritative account of the Chilean mine disaster—a remarkable story of human endurance, ingenuity, and heroism above and below ground.
New information, behind-the-scenes details, and never-before-heard stories chronicled in 33 Men include:
- A sobering look at how close the miners came to cannibalism as starvation set in during the initial seventeen days of their entombment, when they had no idea if they would be found, let alone rescued alive. In interviews with the author, several of the men admitted that had a miner died during the first seventeen days, it was clear they would be forced to cannibalism. This was their deepest fear, harking back to the gruesome event that occurred on the border of their nation in 1972 when a plane flying from Uruguay to Chile crash-landed in a remote section of the Andes and the starving survivors – a squad of young Uruguayan rugby players – were forced to resort to cannibalism in order to stay alive. Known to the world as Alive, this rugged tale haunted the miners. In Chile, the trapped men did not eat each other, but they had picked out the pot, a saw and a plan for cooking should it come to that. The men acknowledged they were just days away from such a brutal reality.
- The world press focused primarily on the Aboveground story of the men after the day they were discovered alive. Franklin explores the first seventeen days, when the men designed a unique underground society. In extraordinary detail, he looks back at the period before the miners reestablished contact with the outside world, as desperation set in and thirty-three starving men somehow managed to grasp the essence of the human spirit and never let go.
- How the miners—rather than descending into chaos, violence, or Lord of the Flies–style social disintegration, as might be expected—developed a protocol of routines, respect and tasks that turned what they were experiencing into an extension of their everyday lives. Professionals both in Chile and with NASA, who were brought in by the Chileans to share decades of studying human behavior in confined, stressful situations were astounded. "The Chileans wrote the playbook on this one," said one NASA expert.
- A blow-by-blow account of what happened before, during, and after the massive cave-in from the perspective of the miners, their family members, and rescuers. With a front row seat to the rescue operation, Franklin was able to attend planning meetings, pore over government documents, record sessions between the trapped miners and the medical team on the surface, and talk directly to engineers, drill operators, family members, and the miners themselves while they were still trapped underground. This allowed him to provide a depth of intimate, first-hand detail unmatched by any other reporter.
- A look at the extent to which the mountain continued to threaten the lives of the trapped miners throughout the ordeal. "Even the day of the rescue," says Franklin, "when the miners were brought up in the escape pod—there were avalanches and cave-ins. People don't realize how strong a chance there was, up to the very last minute that these guys would be crushed or killed."
- How the miners used their mechanical and electrical skills to construct new inventions that were key to their survival as they adapted to their entrapment. These included an invented generator for their headlamps; an ingenious lighting system using bulbs from the vehicles to illuminate the tunnel and thus allowed them to simulate night and day; the creation of channels and canals to redirect water away from sleeping areas into a shower area; methods for using the hot engine block for brewing tea, for drying wet boots and clothes; and more. Taken together, these innovations provided the miners with a semblance of normalcy in their otherworldly environment.
- What it was like for the miners as they struggled with the notion to come to terms with the notion that each of them was going to suffer a slow, lingering death. In some cases they expected to wake up each morning to find at least one of their companions dead. Many miners penned goodbye letters to their families. They explained how to cash out life insurance policies. To settle old debts. One man even neatly arranged his clothes and equipment every night before he went to sleep. He thought he might die in his sleep and wanted rescue workers to find a body left in dignity, his head held high, his miner helmet neatly organized, a sign he was proud of being a miner.
- A look at how one particular miner—Mario Sepulveda—emerged as the group's leader. Although news stories about the drama as it unfolded suggested it was Luis Urzua, the shift foreman, who took control of the situation and led the men through their ordeal, Franklin reveals that it was in fact Sepulveda—with a special knack for cajoling, threatening, and motivating the men as a positive force—who emerged as the true leader of the pack.
- The struggles of some of the miners with various addictions. Franklin writes, "In addition to tobacco, many had a prodigious addiction to alcohol. Several were users of cocaine and its toxic by-product, an addictive and brain-destroying chemical sludge known as 'pasta base.' For these men entrapment also meant enforced cold turkey, the accompanying mood swings and desperation making their ordeal all the worse."
- An extraordinary behind-the-scenes look at the war that raged between the miners trapped below and the mental health team above—most particularly lead psychologist Dr. Alberto Iturra—who tried to shepherd the men through their captivity. Says Franklin, "It wasn't all peace and love. The miners got to the point where they actually threatened to go on a hunger strike to protest what they considered Iturra's oppressive handling of them. To this day, many of the miners would like to see him put in jail."
- The chaos that ensued when Iturra—straining under pressure from the miners, lack of sleep, and the responsibility for maintaining the sanity of the thirty-three lives on his watch—took a weeklong sabbatical and turned his duties over to a more easygoing colleague who reversed many of the rules he had established. With restrictions lifted, family members began packing la paloma—the PVC tubes used to drop supplies to the miners—with secret gifts, unsanctioned foods, cigarettes, pills, and various other drugs. Franklin writes, "With group unity and long-term health key factors in the men's ability to survive, the temptation of short-term pleasures—alcohol, cocaine, marijuana—were in direct conflict with the needs of the group. Having small amounts of drugs circulating in the community created more tension than it relieved, instigated jealousies, and threatened to alter basic tenets of the communal living conditions."
- Untold stories involving key players whose contributions would prove crucial to the success of the rescue effort. Franklin explores the impact of President Pinera's obsession with maintaining multiple rescue strategies that used deliberately varied technologies. He also tells the story of the Chilean mining engineer who was virtually kidnapped to oversee the rescue effort; the American driller from Colorado flown in from Afghanistan, who threw a bull's-eye in drilling for the men trapped below (if his drill had been off course by just five inches, he would have missed them); the mining minister who sought out the help of a psychic; the engineer who devised la paloma; the communications specialists who figured out how to establish a telephonic link to the miners when various high-tech methods had failed; and many others.
- How the miners' sense of humor helped them weather the storm of their entrapment. Says Franklin, "It sounds counterintuitive to think there was much of anything to be humorous about but as one of the mine workers put it, 'We had lots of good times, jokes, lots of happiness.' " The men even managed to divert the water from their sleeping quarters in such a way as to create what they called La Playa ("The Beach"), a 20ft x 10ft x 3ft swimming pool at the very bottom of the mine where they could swim, frolic, and briefly forget their dire situation.
- A look at rituals the men developed during the grueling first seventeen days, and the unity they forged to stay alive in the direst moments, began to fray in the last month, as the necessities of survival were tempered by the relative comforts provided by rescuers via la paloma.
- How a telecommunications expert and one of the trapped miners joined forces to trick a billion viewers around the world who were watching live video of the rescue as it was taking place. In the middle of the extraction of the miners, as the world watched, an avalanche broke loose inside the mine. The rubble sliced through the fiber optic signal from the main camera filming the escape capsule's arrival and departure deep in the mine, a video clip from earlier in the rescue was reloaded and broadcast. Meanwhile, deep underground, one miner negotiated a gauntlet of falling rock from the recently collapsed roof, cracked and still cracking walls, and a muddy two-hundred-yard stretch of tunnel in order to fix the fiber optic and reestablish the live shot. Franklin writes, "[Viewers] never realized that the image of perfection being broadcast was a rerun to cover up a dramatic chapter far too risky for the Chilean government to allow the world to see."
- An account of a potentially fatal incident that occurred as the miners were being brought to the surface. A local rescue worker—Pedro Rivero—was allowed to rush to the bottom of the mine to help out. Stepping out of the escape capsule he immediately caused problems. Brandishing a camera, he started filming and then headed into a section of the mine that had just collapsed twice, raising the very real possibility that he himself would need rescuing. Upon his return he announced that he was on a special mission for the mining minister and that it was his job to be the last man out. As the stunned miners looked on, a raging argument broke out between Rivero and two navy commandos who had also been sent below and who threatened to stuff him back in the capsule by force if he didn't leave under his own volition. Rivero left the bottom of the mine, after he entered the rescue capsule, he angrily slammed the door.
- A look at the first days of freedom as a rag tag group of miners who had last experienced the world as down-and-out miners, anonymous to the point of being invisible, struggled with the avalanche of lights, cameras, acclaim, attention, and adulation. In the hospital, where they were kept for observation, some awoke anxious, with nightmares of the mine, thinking their sleep, thinking they had duties inside the mine to complete. Franklin writes, "Post-traumatic stress disorder was practically guaranteed for at least some of the men." The lead doctor would later declare that "32 of the 33" had some form of Post-traumatic stress disorder.
33 MEN concludes with the author's final thoughts on how faith and technology were ultimately united to literally move a mountain and set the miners free; and how the miners, the rescue workers, and the world media demonstrated the ability to work for the common good. He describes how these men became an example to the world, a symbol of survival: "A brief reminder that like evil, good exists. And a reminder that in an ever more connected world, a single event has the power to unite us." And he asks, was the world media's fixation with the Chilean mining story a flash in the pan or a brief glimpse into the vast reservoir of good will that can always be summoned for a worldwide movement?
Franklin, who sees the Chilean mine rescue, an event that showcased human charity, brotherhood and the concept of a Global Village built on altruism, as something that fed a deep-seated need in all of us. He writes, "The global embrace of the Chilean miners had as much to do with the state of the planet as it did the fate of the trapped men. Every year, thousands of miners are trapped and die. Hundreds more are rescued. The world's press has no shortage of global good-news stories. Heroes abound if reporters and editors take the time to search. After nearly a decade of what analysts call 'the Age of Terror,' by August 2010 the world seemed starved of hope, but the bravery of the thirty-three men and a band of generous and tenacious rescue workers brought the world together. At least for a moment, we could say, 'We are all Chilean.'"
About the Author:
Jonathan Franklin is an award-winning journalist whose work has been published in twenty-one languages around the world. He reports for The Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), Der Spiegel, Jerusalem Post, Sydney Morning Herald, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Playboy, among many others. His investigative reporting has been used by CBS's 60 Minutes, A&E, TrueTV, the BBC, and numerous documentary productions worldwide. Franklin lives with his wife and six daughters in Santiago, Chile, where he has lived for the past sixteen years.
by Jonathan Franklin
G. P. Putnam's Sons
February 14, 2011
SOURCE Penguin Group (USA)