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The story of The 33

Santiago, Chiile

Santiago, Chile. Image courtesy of abstractic, Morguefile.

On an August morning back in 2010, a group of Chilean miners entered the San José mine in Copiapó, Chile, expecting a normal work shift. That afternoon, that work shift turned into something they never saw coming: a nightmarish test of physical and mental survival for the next 69 days.

Héctor Tobar’s Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories Of 33 Men Buried In A Chilean Mine, And The Miracle That Set Them Free is a vivid survival story of these miners and the events that happened to them after the cave-in. Survival stories like this one fascinate me; it’s interesting to read about group dynamics and personalities and to see who emerges as the leaders and the followers of the group. There’s also a comfort in knowing that whatever stress life gives you, someone else survived worse than that and managed to come out all right.

Tobar’s book is more graphic than the 2015 movie “The 33”. The movie’s special effects make it clear how terrifying the initial mine collapse was and how impossible it was for the miners to escape the mine on their own. The book, however, goes into more detail about how the miners coped with the stress of knowing the mine could collapse further at any time, the fear that the owners would simply seal off the mine and entomb them forever, and the wondering if anyone would ever locate them before they died, one by one. There was also the physical torment of prolonged starvation, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal (for some) and the constant high temperature of the mine (over 100 degrees).

Tobar discusses the frustration of the miners’ families, the rescue efforts of people working around the clock to free the miners, and the media circus that developed on the surface. The miners had to cope with all of that, too — their newfound fame and wealth, a stay in hospital, and constant demands for money from relatives or friends. Many of the miners had PTSD afterward.

The miners agreed to share their story as a group, and chose Tobar as the person to write their story. He’s done an amazing job and includes recollections from the miners and their families, so you understand what it was like there, both above and below ground. Tobar conducted hundreds of hours of interviews and went through videos and images from the miners and their rescuers.

CNN did a follow-up documentary last year, called “A Miner Miracle: 5 Years After The Chilean Rescue.” Correspondent Rosa Flores interviews several people, including miner Jorge Galleguillos, drilling expert Jeff Hart and former Chilean president Sebastian Pinera. It’s definitely worth seeing.

The book ends by showing where some of the miners were at the time (the book was published in 2014). I only hope that wherever all 33 miners are now, in 2016, life is getting better for them. I wish them well.

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