Emergency Mine Rescue

Engineers and NASA scientists aid an all-out effort to save 33 Chilean miners trapped nearly half a mile underground. Airing October 26, 2010 at 9 pm on PBS Aired October 26, 2010 on PBS

Program Description

This one-hour film chronicles the fate of the 33 miners trapped in a collapsed Chilean gold and copper mine in August 2010 and investigates the many challenges faced by both the miners and those working around the clock to bring them safely to the surface. NOVA was on-site at the San José mine in Chile by early September. Conferred special access, NOVA's film crew interviewed engineers, NASA experts, medical personnel, and key figures from the companies that provided drills and crucial rescue equipment to give a more detailed scientific account of the unfolding events. The resulting film, using footage from the scene as well as advanced animation, showcases the extraordinary feats of engineering as well as the biological and geological factors inherent in the rescue. "Emergency Mine Rescue" also examines the psychological and physiological impact of this kind of prolonged ordeal on the miners and those involved in the rescue efforts.


Emergency Mine Rescue

PBS Airdate: October 26, 2010

NARRATOR: A mine in Chile collapses. Thirty-three men are trapped. Nearly a half a mile of some of the hardest rock on the planet stands between them and survival. To reach them, engineers launch three audacious drilling operations, but a rescue at these depths has never been attempted before. The effort could take months, and no one has ever survived underground that long.

Now, NOVA takes you behind the scenes, step by step through one of the most complex and technologically challenging rescue missions ever undertaken. Emergency Mine Rescue, right now on NOVA.

Aug 5th 2010: The San Jose mine in Northern Chile collapses. All 33 miners inside are missing, feared dead.

Retired miner Jose Vega is one of the first men on the scene. His son Alex is one of the missing men. Jose quickly forms a search party. They drive into the mine's main access tunnel.

JOSE VEGA (Retired Miner/Father of Missing Miner): The floor was cracked, the ceiling was cracked, the walls were cracked, rocks were falling from everywhere. The truth is it was very frightening, very frightening.

NARRATOR: They make it down 1,300 feet, but then their path is blocked by a huge slab of fallen rock.

The San Jose copper and gold mine has been worked for over a hundred years. Its labyrinth of tunnels and interconnecting ventilation shafts spirals down for nearly two and a half thousand feet. Jose and his team try to find a way below the collapsed access ramp by climbing down the ventilation shafts.

JOSE VEGA: I don't know how far down we got—the minutes turned to hours—but we found a level where there were no cracks. The walls seemed sound.

NARRATOR: Jose's thinks he's reached a tunnel below the collapsed section. But before a mission to rescue the miners gets underway, a second collapse crushes the ventilation shafts.

JOSE VEGA: The left wall was cracked completely. The ventilation shaft has completely gone and levels 2 and 8 don't exist.

NARRATOR: Mining Minister Laurence Golborne is on site, coordinating the rescue.

LAURENCE GOLBORNE (Minister of Mining, Chile): That collapse meant that there was no way that we will make this rescue in a short period of time.

NARRATOR: Golborne's only option is to drill six-inch holes into the tunnels below the collapsed section. It's now the only way to make contact with the men, if they are still alive.

The first of nine drilling rigs arrive at the site. Video cameras will be lowered down holes to look for signs of life. Four of the rigs are equipped with slower, diamond-tipped drill bits and five with faster hardened-steel drill bits.

Raul Dagnino is in charge of one of the high-speed drilling rigs.

RAUL DAGNINO (Managing Director, Terraservice): The big challenge on this is we need to drill fast, because what we know is that the miners underground only have a few days to survive. After that, there's not going to be oxygen.

NARRATOR: The problem with the high-speed drills is that they drift off course when cutting through hard rock; the harder the rock, the bigger the deflection. Engineers must angle the drill in order to compensate for the deflection. But no one knows precisely how hard the rock is. They will need all their experience if they are to hit the tunnels where any miners might be sheltering.

After drilling down over 1,640 feet, there is still no trace of the miners. Rescuers know the men only had enough food for two or three days. Hopes of finding anyone alive are fading.

A makeshift camp where the miners' families have been living since day one is named Campamento Esperanza, Camp Hope.

Carola's husband, Raul Bustos, is one of the missing miners.

CAROLA NARVAEZ BUSTOS (Wife of Trapped Miner Raul Bustos): My husband is down there. I'm waiting here for him, and in Talcahuano his two children are waiting.

He's strong; he will get out.

NARRATOR: Rescuers turn their attention to one last place, a refuge located in the deepest part of the mine. It's a long shot, but if the miners are alive, it's possible they're sheltering here.

The tunnels around the refuge are only 15 feet wide and almost a half a mile down. To drill into them, engineers must reduce the normal operating error of their machines from 10 percent down to just half of one percent. It's an almost impossible task.

Fourteen days have now passed since the mine collapsed. The lead drill is finally approaching the level of the refuge, but the hard rock causes the drill to veer off course. They miss their target by less than 100 feet.

RAUL DAGNINO: It's obviously a big disappointing for the crew, you know? We normally work for finding minerals, you know? We never drilled to find lives.

And you see all this big camp and everybody there, you know, people crying. It's getting critical: more days, less chances.

We have to keep drilling until we hit the target, you know?

NARRATOR: By August 20th, rescuers fear all the men are dead. In the early hours of the morning of the 17th day, all 9 drilling rigs are ordered to shut down.

One of the rescue teams has broken through into a tunnel close to the refuge. Everyone listens. They hear something.

MIGUEL FORTT (Mining Engineer): As they are metallic tubes, somebody bangs down there and the operators above can hear them. That's why they stop the engines, so they can be certain they are receiving signals from someone.

NARRATOR: One of the miners is hammering on the end of the drill. Someone has survived for 17 days in the blackness.

Six hours later, the drill is winched back to the surface, rescuers find a note strapped to the end.

LAURENCE GOLBORNE: We are well in the refuge, all 33 of us.

NARRATOR: It's news no one is expecting. All 33 of the missing miners are alive.

A miniature camera and telephone cable are lowered down the six-inch hole into the mine. Theses are the first images of the miners broadcast to the world.

LAURENCE GOLBORNE: Hello? Yes, I can hear you!

LUIZ URZUA: This is the end of the shift, Luis Urzua.

LAURENCE GOLBORNE: Luis Urzua, you are speaking with the mining minister Laurence Golborne.

LUIZ URZUA: We're fine - waiting to be rescued!

LAURENCE GOLBORNE: We are starting work on digging tunnels and chimneys.

NARRATOR: An emotional rendition of the national anthem reach the surface. It's the last thing physiologist Alberto Iturra expects to hear.

ALBERTO ITURRA (Rescue Team Psychologist): We all expected the mood of the miners to be a depressing one with severe mental issues. However, we realized they are healthy people. They are extraordinary people.

NARRATOR: The miners are not confined to the small refuge, they are able to move through a half a mile of tunnels in the lower part of the mine.

The miners describe their desperation of the first 17 days.

TRAPPED MINER: We hoped to open a line of communication with the surface. We put lots of smoke signals through there. We set fire to oil filters and tires. It was a desperate time.

NARRATOR: To help the men cope with their prolonged isolation, the Chilean government calls in NASA psychologist Al Holland.

AL HOLLAND (NASA Psychologist): Makes a big difference that there was a group of 33 down there. They divided up into work groups and they explored for water, they dug wells. This is extremely important, because if people do not organize themselves, and they do not take control of their fate, then they've essentially given up before they've even tried. And those people tend not to survive these situations.

NARRATOR: The reason for the collapse is still under investigation, but local mining engineers suspect that poor structural support is to blame.

MIGUEL FORTT: You should leave support bridges at different levels with a predetermined thickness and in this case there was one bridge which was mined. Instead of being 30 meters thick, at one point it was approximately 15 meters.

NARRATOR: Whatever caused the collapse, the result is clear. A 700,000-ton block of rock crashes down, crushing the access tunnel and ventilation shafts to a depth of over 1,600 feet.

The miners are now entombed under nearly half a mile of rock. A rescue at these depths has never been attempted. The reality is that these men may never see the light of day again.

The miraculous survival of all 33 miners captured the world's imagination.

The men are alive thanks to the actions of their shift leader, Luis Urzua.

LUIS URZUA: I can't wait for the minute I'll be together with all my family.

NARRATOR: He insisted they ration what little food they had. Each survived on just a sip of milk and one spoon of tuna every two days.

TRAPPED MINER 2: That was our first kitchen. In one of the truck's filter covers, we made a little soup. Very delicious by the way.

NARRATOR: But the rationing leaves their bodies close to collapse. Now the food they so desperately need could kill them. Too many carbohydrates can cause a sudden drop in phosphate levels, a chemical vital for maintaining a beating heart.

The process of rehabilitating the miners is monitored by NASA medic Doctor J.D. Polk.

J.D. POLK (NASA Physician): Because the miners were eating barely enough to get by, probably less than 300 calories a day in effect they were starving. What we worry about is something called refeeding syndrome, which can cause a low level of phosphate, which can then lead to cardiac dysrhythmia or cardiac failure.

NARRATOR: Getting the right nutrition to the miners is critical.

Three six-inch bores were drilled during the initial search for the miners. One hit the tunnel outside the refuge; the other two broke through into a tunnel higher in the mine, near a workshop. These six-inch-wide holes are the miner's only lifeline to the outside world.

Hollow pipes, dubbed "palomas," or "carrier pigeons," are packed with provisions and winched 2,300 feet down the three holes.

Medics first send a glucose solution containing minerals and vitamins. It will slowly and safely reintroduce them to food.

All of the focus now turns to the engineers. They have only one option to save the miners, to somehow drill a 28-inch shaft nearly a half a mile down, lower a steel cage, barely wide enough for a man, and then winch them back to the surface.

Cheers ring out around Camp Hope. The machine everyone hopes will rescue the miners, the Strata 950, arrives from a mine 500 miles away.

This drill cuts using three, rotating tungsten steel disks. First, it will punch a 15-inch pilot hole down to the miners. Then a second device, called a reamer, will widen the hole to around 28 inches, wide enough to extract the men.

The Strata 950 is designed to drill perfectly straight vertical holes. This will give the rescue capsule a clean shot to the surface. The drilling rig must be placed precisely over its target.

This drill also needs over four and a half gallons of water per second, to lubricate and cool the cutting bit, but the mine is in the middle of the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth.

The nearest water supply is a bore hole an hour's drive from the mine. Its water is now crucial in saving the 33 miners.

On the evening of August 31st, the drilling begins. If all goes according to plan, the Strata 950 will complete its work in three months. Any delays could extend the rescue beyond Christmas.

A never-ending convoy of water tankers has to feed the drill for the next few months. In the meantime the miners must endure horrendous conditions. Inside the tunnels, temperatures reach 95 degrees. The rock walls drip with moisture, and the humidity in the air is a suffocating 95 percent. Even the darkness poses a threat.

J.D. POLK: We worry about the lack of exposure to UV light, UV-A and B. UV-A and UV-B help kill bacteria and fungus and viruses. Without that the men are probably more at risk for fungal infections, bacterial infections etc. in the mine.

NARRATOR: High doses of antibiotics are passed down to the men, to deal with infections, but some miners have long-term health issues. The oldest miner, Mario Gomez, is approaching his 64th birthday, and 56-year-old Jorge Galleguillos has high blood pressure. Jose Ojeda is diabetic. The fear is that the men's health will deteriorate before the rescuers can reach them.

Today, an American-built drilling rig, the Schramm T130, arrives. It's part of a daring new rescue plan—dubbed Plan B—that started with a phone call from Pennsylvania-based drilling engineer Brandon Fisher.

BRANDON FISHER (Center Rock Inc.): When we initially saw that they were planning on taking as long as Christmas, we felt that we needed to get involved and at least reach out and let people know, from Chile, that we have technology that could possibly help.

NARRATOR: Brandon's plan is brutal but much faster. Instead of grinding the rock, like Plan A, his drill will smash it. Compressed air forces a piston to smash into a drill head made of hardened tungsten steel points. These points hammer into the rock 20 times a second. This drill should be twice as fast as the Strata 950, but there's one major drawback, you can't steer it. But Brandon has a plan.

Three six-inch-diameter shafts run down to the miners. They're supplying the men with food, water and medical supplies. Brandon's bold idea is to sacrifice one of these supply lines. He will use it to guide his air-powered hammer.

The Plan B team have designed a special hammer head, with a guide piece on the tip that will allow the drill to follow the existing pilot hole.

As Plan A continues on Plan B starts to drill. The first 150 feet of this hole is the hardest. The drilling bit has to change direction steeply at the top as it follows the existing pilot hole.

Brandon worries that the hammer head will jump out of the guide hole as it tries to round the curve. Plan B is a fast, but high-risk, ride.

BRANDON FISHER: The speed and economics in most cases outweigh the chance or the risk that you take.

NARRATOR: Psychologists know that if the miners are to survive they must continue to pull together as a group.

ALBERTO ITURRA: When someone is a little sad the group brings them in and they integrate him, making him better. If someone is angry he's left alone for a while until the problem goes away. The group has kept a special structure preventing extreme situations from occurring.

NARRATOR: Psychologists also have to deal with some of the men's addiction to cigarettes. Even though they've been sent down nicotine patches, the miners want to smoke. Their request is refused. The air is too toxic.

To keep the group's spirits up, psychologists show a live soccer match between Chile and the Ukraine. While the families watch above ground, the miners also follow the action, thanks to a projector and half a mile of fiber optic cable.

Ex-professional soccer player Franklin Lobos gives a halftime analysis.

FRANKLIN LOBOS (Soccer Announcer): I think a fair result.

Ukrainians are playing better than Chile. I hope we can improve in the second half.

NARRATOR: Clearly the Ukrainians didn't get the memo. The match ends in a 2-1 defeat.

After three days, Plan B has hammered its way through an impressive 879 feet of rock. But suddenly, the drill grinds to a halt.

RENE AGUILAR (Chief Engineer, Codelco): Half an hour ago we had a problem because the drill is broken, so we have to put a video camera and see what happened there.

NARRATOR: The camera reveals a catastrophic failure: Plans B's hammer has disintegrated. It's hit an iron roof bolt, close to a tunnel that no one knew existed. Steel fragments are wedged over 800 feet down the pilot hole.

Engineers use a magnet to fish out the metal pieces, but all attempts end in failure. Plan B is now dead in its tracks.

The miners have been trapped for 35 days, and the strain is beginning to show.

Miner Victor Segovia describes his feelings in an emotional letter to his brother, Pedro.

PEDRO (Victor Segovia's Relative/Reading from Letter): There is no way I'm going to lie to you, how things are down here. Here it's really bad. This hell is killing me. I try to be strong, but it's difficult. Sometimes when I sleep I dream I'm at a (untranslated text). When I wake up, I find myself a prisoner in this darkness.

NARRATOR: Plan B is still out of action. After two frustrating days, the engineers have still failed to clear the blockage.

BRANDON FISHER: It's frustrating, it's not a quick process to get back out of the ground. Everyone sucked it up and we quickly started to manufacture an on-site fishing tools apparatus to go down and retrieve the broken metal out of the ground.

NARRATOR: And today brings more bad news: a leaking hydraulic line shuts down Plan A. It's only reached 676 feet.

The miners can hear that all the drilling has stopped.

Maria Segovia receives a letter from her brother Dario. He desperately wants to know what is going on.

MARIA SEGOVIA (Sister of Trapped Miner): The boys are bad down there. The boys are bad, nervous. They can't hear the machines, they can't hear anything.

NARRATOR: The miners have been trapped for more than a month, and all attempts to rescue them have stalled. No one knows how much more they can take.

Then a newcomer rolls through the gates of the mine. This is the first of a convoy of 42 massive trucks carrying the pieces of a monster new drill, Plan C.

Just a few weeks ago this oil platform was stationed close to the Bolivian border. Canadian Shaun Robstad is the team leader.

SHAUN ROBSTAD (Precision Drilling Corporation): We're coming in to, hopefully, drill a well here, that's all, and pull them out.

NARRATOR: The rig is so big it needs a flat piece of land the size of a football field. A site is prepared, but it's not directly above the miners. The drill starts at a seven-degree angle. It will aim for the workshop above the miners' refuge.

For the miners' families, the rise of this 150-foot tall, superfast drill is a reassuring sight.

WOMAN 1: Supposedly this machine can do 100 meters a day, so it will be much quicker as long as nothing goes wrong with it.

CAROLA NARVAEZ BUSTOS: Our hopes are with Plan C, the transformer, the big one.

NARRATOR: But this monster will take nine days to construct.

After five weeks underground, individual personalities begin to emerge. Most noticeable is Mario Supulveda, who has become the group's standup comic.

MARIO SUPULVEDA: the wife who wastes money of their husband's, it's time that they pulled their socks up and understand that we don't earn our money because we're prettier than our boss. No, we earn our money with the sweat of our brow.

NARRATOR: Plan B has been out of action for five days. All attempts to lift the broken drill bit out of the hole have failed.

LAURENCE GOLBORNE: A piece of the head of the hammer is down there, so we have to try to take it out, which is not an easy task. And we have tried twice, and we haven't been able to do it.

NARRATOR: If engineers can't remove the broken drill bit, they will have to abandon the hole and start again from the surface.

RAUL DAGNINO: When you are in the drilling business, you know, you drill a hole and if you lose a hole you lose money. But if you lose the holes here you can lose lives.

NARRATOR: Starting over will put Plan B's rescue attempt back by at least nine days.

It's a desperate and frustrating time for the families at Camp Hope. Tonight, one of Chile's most sacred icons, the Virgin Maria del Carmen, is brought up to the camp. As the families pray for the men, engineers make a last desperate attempt to repair Plan B.

They're using what's called a spider: a metal tube with teeth cut into its tip. It's lowered down to the bottom of the hole. As it approaches the obstruction, it's pushed down under immense pressure. This forces the teeth to bend inwards, enclosing the metal debris.

Engineers wait to see if their spider holds on to its catch.

It works. Plan B can finally begin drilling again.

Plan A is also back up and running, its maintenance complete. But so far, it's only averaging 66 feet a day, and this is just the pilot hole. At this rate, the miners will remain buried underground for at least another four months.

The miners have now spent 40 days trapped underground; 15 days longer than anyone in history.

Psychologists credit the men's resilience to one thing: their faith.

AL HOLLAND: Faith plays a key role in maintaining your motivation to survive. It's that hope; it's the understanding of the people who are trying to rescue you, that they're technically good, that they are working 24/7 on your behalf; faith in your family that your family has not given up on you; faith in comrades that are with you, that they will keep encouraging you, and you will keep encouraging them; and faith in yourself and in your religion. And without those, they'd lose the ability as a team, to continue to work toward their survival.

NARRATOR: Their faith is rewarded. Against overwhelming odds, Plan B's 12-inch drill bit smashes through, into an access tunnel close to the miners' workshop.

MARIO SUPULVEDA: It's 6:35 in the morning. Thank you to all our dear colleagues who have worked so hard for us. We are full of emotion for what's been achieved. And with this we want to thank you companeros, attention, with all our hearts!

NARRATOR: But, in reality, the battle is only half won. The 2,067-foot shaft must now be widened from 12 to 28 inches.

Brandon Fisher's Pennsylvania workshop has specially built a powerful new drill bit for the task. As the blue drum rotates, its four hammerheads pummel into the ground 20 times a second, shattering the hard rock. It chews through more than three feet of rock every hour. If there are no setbacks, they could reach the miners in 26 days.

September 18th: Today is the 200th anniversary of Chilean independence. Half a mile beneath the surface, the miners are determined to join in. They're sent down a traditional meal of empanadas

MINER: Go on, take a bite.

NARRATOR: But not the red wine that normally accompanies this dish.

Alcohol has been banned by the medics, but they've been forced to give in on another issue

MINER 2: And he owes me a cigarette! And that fat one owes me a pack now. It's going up!

NARRATOR: For the past six days, they've been allowed a limited supply of cigarettes.

Assembly of the massive Plan C rig is finally complete. Its 28-inch-wide tri-cone bit is powerful enough to dig the rescue shaft in just one pass, in only 20 days. Mining Minister Golborne switches on the rig.

LAURENCE GOLBORNE: We are going to start the drilling with the oil rig, in a second.

NARRATOR: Water-based slurry cools down the three interlocking drill heads and drives rock cuttings back to the surface.

LAURENCE GOLBORNE: Here we have the debris created by the drilling.

NARRATOR: Now, for the first time, all three drills are up and running, locked in a dramatic race.

Plan A makes it to 1,234 feet, but it's still on its first 12-inch pilot hole. The Pennsylvania-based Plan B team reaches 279 feet, while the massive oil rig, Plan C, has reached just 131 feet in four days.

The rock is harder than predicted, wearing down the drill heads. Each one lasts approximately 20 hours. It takes 12 hours to change out each bit.

And then Plan B suffers its second catastrophic failure, and this time there's no hiding it from the miners. One of the drill's four hammers breaks and drops down the pilot hole, crashing into the one of the tunnels.

MINER 3: Good afternoon. Could you please explain what is this little thing you've got? I think it's called a "drill bit," but could you explain why this bit is here?

BRANDON FISHER: Instantly they were on the telephone. Called us to let us know there was a bit in the hole. The only time in my life that I've ever drilled a hole that we have communication below that tells us what's going on.

NARRATOR: The miners joke about the accident. But as their 50th day underground approaches, they don't know how much longer they can survive or whether they'll ever see sunlight again.

For the families of the 33 miners, it's a painful waiting game, with hopes raised and then dashed. But today, Day 52, brings an exciting development.

The escape vehicle, dubbed the "Phoenix," arrives. It's been specially designed by the Chilean Navy, with help from NASA.

A narrow 21 inches in diameter, it's painted in the colors of the Chilean flag. Led by minister Golborne, the families are given the chance to experience what awaits their loved ones.

CAROLA NARVAEZ BUSTOS: Everyday that new equipment arrives we are closer to seeing them again. Anything that arrives like the capsule tells us it won't be long. That they will be out very soon.

NARRATOR: Inside there are oxygen cylinders in case of breathing problems. A mesh door provides ventilation. There's also a mechanism that splits the capsule in two. If it jams in the shaft, the man can winch himself back down into the mine. If the mechanism fails, there'll be no way to get to him.

Day 58: In the race to rescue the miners, Plan B surges ahead. Plan C lags well behind, at 656 feet, while Plan B has now reached just over a thousand feet. Plan A hasn't finished drilling the pilot hole. To the drillers' disappointment, authorities decide to shut down Plan A.

Underground, the miners have work to do. They are battling to clear the buildup of debris caused by drill B.

RENE AGUILAR: The miners are working on Plan B every day. They work on shifts, three shifts, eight hours each shift. We need them to took out the work that we are putting down with the drilling process. We are talking about almost 20 tons each day. Those three shifts do the job at eight a.m. and eight p.m., okay? And they use a charger, and they took all the material and put it into a gallery which is 200 meters distance from the place that the material is going down.

NARRATOR: October 5th, Day 61: At Camp Hope, supporters of the 33 miners gather on a hillside above the mine. They're holding a vigil to mark a solemn milestone. Today, is exactly two months since the San Jose mine collapsed. The families pray that rescue is just days away.

Plan C is proving to be a disappointment. The rock is so hard, it's only chewing through some 50 feet a day.

But there's good news, too. Plan B has reached 1,528 feet. Once finished, drillers will reinforce the weak rock at the top of their drill shaft with steel lining tubes. They cannot risk a tunnel collapse while a miner is being winched to the surface.

The rescue team begins practicing their mission. A crane lifts the capsule into one of the steel liners. It's an extremely tight fit.

Each man will spend nearly 20 minutes in this cage, alone for the first time in over two months. The final journey to freedom will be grueling.

RESCUE WORKER 1: We see that the yellow tub is now completely inside.

RESCUE WORKER 2: It's dark in here, but I have light so I see everything.

NARRATOR: Day 65: The sun rises over a freezing Atacama Desert. As day breaks, Plan B is just 10 feet from the miners. It's a dangerous time. The rock just above the tunnel roof is weak. The threat of major collapse is very real.

BRANDON FISHER: We're going to take our time going through, talking to the miners. They'll be telling us what they're seeing down there. Everyone's just completely pumped up right now.

NARRATOR: They've reached the final few feet. Now they're drilling at half speed, inching toward their target.

Eight a.m.: Brandon Fisher's specially designed drill smashes through to the miners.

GREG HALL (Drillers Supply International): The best drillers I've ever seen.

BRANDON FISHER: This is the thirty-third day that we were drilling.

GREG HALL: Thirty-three days, 33 miners.

BRANDON FISHER: I just can't believe we're finally here. I don't even know what to say. I feel like I'm ready to explode.

NARRATOR: After 65 torturous days underground, the Plan B team gives the miners their escape route.

GREG HALL: This is the hardest job I've ever been on in my life, technically and, obviously, emotionally. And it fought us the whole way. It really fought us the whole way, and there was a lot of time we didn't think we'd make it. At the very end, you probably saw the pipe jamming, the roof bolts were catching in the teeth, and you know there's a, "oh, great we're not going to be able to make it," but yeah, we made it.

NARRATOR: Mission accomplished, the Plan B team leaves. They know the celebration ahead belong to the families who've waited so long.

MINER'S WIFE: I made a bet on Plan B, and Carola?

CAROLA NARVAEZ BUSTOS: I made a bet on drill C. I had a lot of faith in drill C because it seemed much faster. And I lost.

NARRATOR: There's fear too. No one knows how the men will be affected by their long ordeal.

CAROLA NARVAEZ BUSTOS: The only thing I want is to see him and call him, but at the same time you understand that at times they will want to be alone, and that is something we'll have to respect because they've been alone for a long time. They have gotten used to another way of life. We'll have to start from the beginning again.

NARRATOR: In the early hours of Day 69, the final phase of this ambitious rescue mission begins. Medics decide that a few strong men will lead the way, in case of problems, followed by the ill and weakened miners.

Florencio Avalos, the first to be filmed alive, will be the first to leave.

As he's winched up, at a speed of 3 feet per second, his wife, Monica Araya, and seven-year-old son are anxiously waiting, alongside Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

Just after midnight, the capsule breaks the surface. The cage door is opened, and Florencio is a free man.

Next to emerge is the group's energetic spokesman Mario Sepulveda, armed with souvenir rocks.

Now, one by one, the men are winched back to life. The last to surface, to a hero's welcome, is the leader credited with saving his men's lives: Luis Urzua.

Seventy days ago, what looked like a horrifying catastrophe has become a miraculous story of technological ingenuity, comradery and courage, witnessed by the entire world.

Broadcast Credits

Emergency Mine Rescue

Produced and Directed by
Kate Dart
Nick Evans
Tom Stubberfield
Series Producer
William Hicklin
Edited by
David Gasson
Franco Bogino
Justin Amsden
Facundo Lí³pez
Sound Recordists
Juan Deffis
Poncho Gonzí¡lez
Lance Lewman
Audio Networks
Animation & Graphics
Prime Focus
Production Manager
Zoe Elliot
Production coordinator
Scarlet Mehta
Associate Producers
Peter Barker
Soledad Schiano
Online Editor
Steve Gilbert
Audio Mix
Joe Cochrane
Sam Mortimore
Sophie Kaye
Helen Wollner
Archival Material
AP Archive
Government of Chile
ITN Source / Reuters
Raul de la Jara Mellado
TVN Chile
Special Thanks
Dr. Eric Wade, Mining Institute in Newcastle
Eduardo Ramirez
Murray & Roberts
The Government and People of Chile
For Pioneer Productions
Executive Producer
Stuart Carter
Head of Development
Jeremy Dear
Head of Production
Kirstie McLure
Head of Finance
Peter Dunkerley
NOVA Series Graphics
yU + co.
NOVA Theme Music
Walter Werzowa
John Luker
Musikvergnuegen, Inc.
Additional NOVA Theme Music
Ray Loring
Rob Morsberger
Post Production
Online Editors
Michael H. Amundson
Spencer Gentry
Closed Captioning
The Caption Center
Eileen Campion
Victoria Louie
Karen Laverty
Steve Sears
Kate Becker
Production Coordinator
Linda Callahan
Sarah Erlandson
Talent Relations
Scott Kardel, Esq.
Janice Flood
Legal Counsel/dt>
Susan Rosen
Post Production Assistant
Darcy Forlenza
Associate Producer Post Production
Patrick Carey
Post Production Supervisor
Regina O'Toole
Post Production Editors
Rebecca Nieto
Post Production Manager
Nathan Gunner
Compliance Manager
Linzy Emery
Development Producer
Pamela Rosenstein
Supervising Producer
Stephen Sweigart
Business and Production Manager
Jonathan Loewald
Senior Producer and Project Director, Margret & Hans Rey / Curious George Producer
Lisa Mirowitz
Coordinating Producer
Laurie Cahalane
Senior Science Editor
Evan Hadingham
Senior Series Producer
Melanie Wallace
Executive Producer
Howard Swartz
Managing Director
Alan Ritsko
Senior Executive Producer
Paula S. Apsell

Produced by Pioneer Productions for NOVA in association with Channel 4

© 2010 Pioneer Film and Television Productions Limited and WGBH Educational Foundation

All rights reserved

Image credit: (rescue) © Associated Press


René Aguilar
Chief Engineer, Codelco
Raíºl Dagnino
Managing Director, Terraservice
Brandon Fisher
Center Rock Inc.
Miguel Fortt
Mining Engineer
Laurence Golborne
Minister of Mining
Greg Hall
Drillers Supply International
Al Holland
NASA Psychologist
Alberto Iturra
Rescue Team Psychologist
Carola Narvaez Bustos
Wife of Raíºl Bustos
J.D. Polk
NASA Physician
Shaun Robstad
Precision Drilling
José Vega
Father of Alex Vega


Full Program | 52:59

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