The Chile mine disaster: a year later

Mike Krumboltz

On August 5, 2010, the Earth opened in northern Chile and swallowed 33 miners. For 69 days, they were trapped half a mile down. The miners stayed strong while the rest of the world kept vigil, and, more than two months later, all 33 men were retrieved. The rescue was watched by more than a billion people.

The one-year anniversary of the mine's collapse has inspired a tremendous amount of interest in the heroes who faced staggering odds to survive their ordeal. Over the past week, web searches for "chile miners today" and "chile miners update" have both surged. Though information on some of the miners is scant, newspapers and programs have profiled many of the men. Unfortunately, over the past year, heartache and illness have been the rule rather than the exception.

According to an article from the U.K. Telegraph, some of the rescued miners have expressed an interest in returning to mining. One miner, Pablo Rojas, told the newspaper, "I've gone back, because it's my life. I've been doing it from the age of 16, and I don't know how to do anything else." But almost half the men have been without a job since the mine accident.

Indeed, though some might think the miners' fame guaranteed they need never work again, that hasn't been the case. According to the AP, "just one, the flamboyant Mario Sepulveda, has managed to live well off the fame. Most have signed up to give motivational speeches. Four, so far, have gone back underground to pound rock for a living." Sepulveda, on the other hand, formed a business consulting service and hired a public relations agent.

Six months before the mine's collapse, Sepulveda "oversaw a campaign to build homes for people affected by a massive earthquake in Chile."

Some survivors are battling physical ailments. Other survivors suffer on a more personal level. Edison Peña, the miner who jogged to keep in shape while trapped underground, was a media darling at first. He ran the New York City Marathon, cut the cake at Elvis Presley's birthday celebration in Graceland, and even sang an Elvis tune on "Letterman." But in recent months, he has also come under criticism for some bad habits. According to the Telegraph, his partner Angelica said, "If both God and the devil were down that mine, I think that probably the devil took him."

Some doctors were concerned that the miners didn't get enough time to rehabilitate, both mentally and physically. Alex Vega is bothered by loud noises and built a wall around his house for reasons he doesn't even understand. Ariel Ticona, the miner whose wife, Elizabeth, was pregnant and has since given birth to a baby named Hope, says her husband doesn't sleep well. The Guardian writes, "at New Year he simply disappeared to the south of the country at the last moment, leaving Elizabeth at home with their two young boys and a baby girl."

"60 Minutes" ran a story on the miners back in February. According to the program, "all but one of the 33 men, doctors say, have suffered severe psychological problems since the accident." For example, Victor Zamora, upon returning to the mine for the first time since being rescued, said that he feels "lots of sadness" and that he would "prefer to be dead."

They have also been the subject of a book, "33 Men: Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners." In a radio interview, author Jonathan Franklin explains that all but one of the men suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

One thing that has gone well for the miners: their ability to stick together while negotiating. Though there have been spats and in-fighting, the men have collectively negotiated the movie rights to their story--which may yet help them secure a bit of comfort in the years ahead.