They call it “the Miracle of the San Jose Mine.” It is captivating.

This story could not have been scripted.

The collapse occurred at around at around 2 p.m., sending up a massive dust cloud…The day after the cave-in, civil defense officials had mustered a 40-man rescue crew to go in after the missing miners. But the mission nearly wrought another tragedy, as the rescuers confronted a cascade of falling rock and buckling walls. “Rocks, dust, darkness, heat,” said fire captain Rafael Gonzalez Perez. “It was impossible.”…

Unable to send in rescuers to fetch the miners, the government shifted to Plan B: Drilling down from the surface after the trapped men.

But after a couple of days, the effort was looking like a geological shot in the dark. Engineers were finding the maps of mine weren’t accurate. “The situation is very complex,” President Piñera said at the time. “The mine continues collapsing. It has a geologic fault. The mine is alive and that enormously obstructs rescue work.”

But that’s when the miracle happened.

A little after 6 a.m. last Sunday the probe broke through an underground chamber, a short distance from the miners’ main shelter. The 28-year-old drill operator, Eduardo Guerra, thought he felt some vibrations coming from below. Some engineers came over with stethoscopes and said they heard something, too. When Mr. Guerra pulled the probe out of the ground, a plastic bag had been attached to the drill tip with cable and rubber bands.

Inside the bag was a note painted in red: “We are well in the shelter the 33.”

It gives you chills. Did me, anyway.

They are affectionately, emotionally, known as “Los 33.”

The men have captured the attention of the world by surviving longer underground than all but a handful of mine accident victims.

And now that workers have crafted a delivery system to send supplies and receive communication from the trapped crew, we can see them and hear their personal accounts and we are locked in this tense human drama together. No matter where we are, we are all there.

One of Latin America’s most advanced economies, Chile has been a darling on Wall Street for its free-market ethos. Its capital, Santiago, is clean and modern, with a scaled-down version of the Chrysler Building. But despite the emergence of other industries, including finance and construction, mining remains the bedrock of the economy, accounting for the biggest share of exports and output.

But look at this…

The accident and rescue have allowed Chileans to get acquainted with people who are responsible for much of the country’s prosperity, but remain largely hidden from view due to the very nature of their work.

I read that line and thought ‘how many people this represents in the world.’

But now that they’re trapped underground, they are more visible to the world than ever. And what they show us about ourselves….or the capacity of the human spirit….is stunning.

When the miners broke out into a ragged chorus of the national anthem after the first telephone contact was made with them on Monday, it was as “as though we couldn’t believe that some countrymen are still that way, of that caliber and that timber,” wrote Daniel Mansuy, a professor of political philosophy, in the Santiago newspaper La Tercera.

It galvanized seemingly everyone.

Families at the site started hunkering down for a long haul, putting up tents or crude lean-tos made of garbage bags stretched above poles. Dubbed Campamento Esperanza, Camp Hope, the place took on a somewhat surreal air. The government started trucking in water and food, as well as sending counselors, cooks and kindergarten teachers. Shrines with votive candles and statues of baby-faced Saint Lorenzo, the patron saint of miners who is often decked out in a hard hat, sprang up alongside television satellite trucks and portalets…

They are relying as much on faith as on human endeavor now, in these desperate times.

Carolina Lobos, daughter of trapped miner and former football star Franklin Lobos, told reporters: “We have all changed because of this. Before it was not very common for people in my family to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I miss you’. Now I call my mum every night, I tell her how much I love her and send kisses. Now we are all valuing much more the people we have by our sides.”…

Meanwhile, a nation watches and does what it can to help. In this lost corner of the Atacama desert, one of the world’s driest spots, it is as if Chile had suddenly sprouted flags, tents and crude shrines to the 33 men. A spirit of solidarity has descended upon this rocky no-man’s land. Without a formal petition for aid or a website, volunteers throughout Chile arrive to bring support – moral, physical and monetary – to the families of the trapped miners.

“The country has shown a unity regardless of religion or social class. You see people arriving here just to volunteer, they have no relation at all to these families,” said Ivan Viveros Aranas, a Chilean policeman working at Camp Hope…

With experts ranging from Nasa doctors to submarine commanders, a team of 300 specialists co-ordinated by the Chilean government has spent the past week scrambling to design a programme of medicine, entertainment and exercise aimed at keeping the 33 men alive and stable for the duration of the rescue operation. Mañalich, one of the co-ordinators, admits he is often in virgin territory. “To my knowledge, this is a singular experience in human history.”

It’s still unfolding. And we’re in this inescapable drama together.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....