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Dramatic Scene Surrounds Chilean Miner Rescue

October 13, 2010 at 8:16 PM EDT
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Jonathan Franklin of the Washington Post gives an update on efforts to free 33 trapped Chilean miners.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we return to Chile now for a live update from the San Jose Mine site. Joining us there is Jonathan Franklin, special correspondent for The Washington Post.

Jonathan, from this distance, it all looks like a flawless operation so far. Is that what you’re seeing?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN, The Washington Post: From up close, it looks even more flawless.

It’s pretty remarkable that the Chileans actually came up with the idea of having three different options to save these guys. They had plan A, plan B, plan C, all multimillion-dollar operations, all with world-class technology, and all of them very successful.

One of them won the race, and that’s what we’re seeing now, one of these tubes drilled down almost 700 meters. It’s like an obstacle course. It goes around and around. This is not an elevator. This is a merry-go-round down there. These guys come up dizzy, but happy, and of course glad to be home.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I was going to ask you about that. We have seen some come up. We saw the — the man they call Super Mario, energetic, ebullient. We have seen some that look calmer.

What have you found out about when they go to the hospital about their actual physical or psychological condition?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: Last night, I was the only reporter in the hospital. I spent last night with them. And I have been up for about two days now.

And what I saw was a group of guys as healthy as you can imagine. Mario hugged me. He hugged the ambulance driver. He hugged the cook in there. He was a guy who was — just couldn’t believe that he was free again, and he had sense of humor.

Some of the other ones needed sedation — not heavy sedation because they were particularly ill, but because of the nerves. They tended to sleep for three or four hours after coming up.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, at this point, things seem to be moving even faster than expected, I gather, right? When are we expecting the last miner, as of now?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: Well, just before we went on air, I heard a huge cheer. It was Franklin Lobos, a Chilean soccer star who was trapped down there below.

We’re down to the last five or six miners now. This will probably be over before midnight. And, yes, it has been flawless. But behind the scenes are hundreds and hundreds of technicians, engineers. The mining community worldwide has come all out for this.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that’s what — I wanted to ask you about that. It’s been widely noted here how carefully and well-put-together, planned, choreographed this has been by authorities there. Is that how it looks up close to you?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: Yes, pretty much. The — I was looking at the menu for the men. The last night of their stay, they had duck, I think it was, with plums, or maybe it was chicken with plums, with all sorts of peaches for dessert. Their laundry service was very efficient. They would send their dirty laundry up, and it would come back just about ironed.

I mean, this was a remarkable operation. And Chile, in fact, is a quite organized country. It’s the kind of place where you might in the morning see government employees cleaning the inside of stoplights, so they won’t be do so dusty.

JEFFREY BROWN: They had of course the whole — it’s an incredible spectacle that the whole world is — is watching at this point.

What’s the — what’s the scene there? You were talking about visiting with some of them in the hospital. What about the families? What about the number of journalists, the number of officials on the site? What’s it like?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: Well, truly, the Chileans were overwhelmed. They probably expected 300 or 400 journalists, and they have got about five to six times that.

But it’s rather funny. It’s a community of maybe 6,000 people, and I don’t think I have seen a dollar bill or a coin the whole time here. It’s one big catered event by the Chilean government. You don’t really see all these behind-the-scenes workers, but hundreds and hundreds of people in the Chilean government must be cleaning this place up, feeding us, taking away the garbage.

It’s really remarkable. It’s — it kind of feels like if journalists from all over the world had their own Woodstock.


JEFFREY BROWN: You know, I know you have been covering this for quite a while. And there’s got to be immense pride from the government in this technical achievement.

Were they — when you and I talked yesterday, you said there was a lot of confidence. You have been talking to these guys. Were they as confident as they seemed? Did they really think this was going to work?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: Yes and no. They did have some last-minute problems, because, on one hand, they would announce that the — there would be all sorts of — I don’t know — they said there would be delays. But, really, I don’t think there would be delays.

I think what they did is, they gave themselves some leeway. So, I really think that the Chileans knew that the real time frame was, but they kind of played with it a bit to make people be a little bit more patient with them. I don’t think we’re going faster than expected. I think we’re going exactly as expected.

It’s just the Chilean government gave themselves a little leeway, just in case. And about the only thing I have seen go wrong is a wheel came off or was loosened on the — on this sled they have built, this capsule. And there was people hammering it and fixing it in the middle of the night.

But, for this kind of operation, it is rather surprising that we haven’t seen more — more chinks in the armor. Really, it’s been quite a show of modern Chile.

JEFFREY BROWN: And before I let you go, do you have any sense of what happens in the next few days? I mean, do we know when miners leave the scene, leave the hospital, rejoin their families? Do they go back to life? What happens to the nation at that point — at this point?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: Yes, the nation is kind of obsessed with this. The nation would like this to go on forever, because Chile often finds itself to be ignored by the world. That’s not the case anymore.

I think, when they bring that last miner up, what we will be seeing is that, for the first time, the ghost of General Pinochet will be left behind at the bottom of that shaft.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what about the miners themselves? Do you have any word on how long they stick around or when they resume their lives?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: The miners, many of them are going to go back to mining. As hard as that is to believe, they will go back to mining, and that will be their job. Other — others will be terrified of going back to it, but I have heard quite a few say, “I’m a miner, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. On the scene in Chile for us, Jonathan Franklin, a special reporter for The Washington Post. Thanks very much.