CNN photoThe Chilean miners are about to see the light of day. What a tale

Within an hour of the collapse of the San José copper mine on 5 August, there was widespread hope that the men were alive – at least some of them. The cave-in hit at lunchtime, so, instead of being dispersed throughout the 6km of tunnels, the men had gathered together for their midday meal.

Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, threw the full weight of his administration behind the rescue efforts. Even as aides begged the newly elected president to avoid personal involvement, Piñera took charge and began organising a rescue operation that used expertise drawn from around the world.

Multinational mining companies donated equipment, personnel and advice. Longstanding competitors fused their energies to provide solutions to the challenge of keeping 33 men alive and healthy via a narrow hole that was drilled down weeks after the men were trapped.

Keep reading this remarkable account…

Seventeen days after the accident, a probe found the men, after drilling a hole into a mine shaft near where they had set up their base camp. Then Miguel Fortt, a Chilean miner with vast experience in rescue operations, devised “the pigeon” (la paloma), a three-metre long piece of PVC tubing, lowered by cable to the men, that carried supplies ranging from bottled water to medicine.

Now, the Phoenix is prepared to rise from the shaft, bringing the miners at last to the surface, and to safety.

Aboveground, workers on Sunday dismantled a drilling rig to make space for a platform that will be used to support the Phoenix, the bullet-shaped rescue capsule that will hoist the miners one by one to the surface. Three specially trained Chilean Navy commandos entered and exited the capsule as they rehearsed rescue procedures. The men also double-checked the sophisticated communications gear that each miner will wear as he is hoisted to safety.

And to their families, who kept them alive with hope.

Mario Gomez, who has been mining since he was 12, became the group’s spiritual leader and requested a crucifix and statuettes of saints so the men could construct a shrine…

“I want to eat so many things. I’m hungrier than ever. All these days I’ve been dreaming about my mom cooking for me. That will happen soon. After the bad comes the good,” he wrote.

On August 26, the men sent up video showing their cavern illuminated by flashlights and the fuzzy beams of their miner helmets. The men were some combination of bedraggled, bearded or bare-chested, yet they expressed their utmost gratitude to their families, the rescuers, [President Sebastian] Pinera and God.

They have maintained an incredibly positive spirit, keeping an orderly routine with the sustenance of family love and encouragement, and faith.

The regimen appeared to keep the men happy, and a host of touching moments and creature comforts buoyed them along the way:

• The pope prayed for them and said he is entrusting them to St. Lorenzo, one of the men’s patron saints.

• They spoke for brief periods to family members…

• In late August, miner Esteban Rojas asked his wife of 25 years to marry him again, this time in a traditional church ceremony.

• And all the miners joined in Ariel Ticona’s glee when his wife gave birth to a girl September 14. He watched it with his brother, Cristian, who was at Camp Esperanza, which means Hope in English. Said Ticona’s wife, “We’re calling her Hope, first, because we never lost hope. Second, because it’s the name of the camp where the families are living. And third, because the 33 miners never lost hope either.”

It’s a beautiful thing. And now, they are about to emerge. The collective breath-holding will release in shouts of joy.

Pulling the men from the mine may not end their ordeals, but Chileans such as Juan Inzunza, who came to Camp Esperanza to cook for the families, will be happy just to see them on the surface.

“The whole country will be overjoyed. We will jump and cry with happiness when the Earth returns them to us,” he said.

Extensions of Camp Hope around the world will be overjoyed, too. They are each an ‘Everyman’, their families are us, and their rescue is the triumph of the human spirit we all can and must share.

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....