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What was so compelling about the rescue of the Chilean miners? Did you watch?

On Cross Country Checkup: Chilean miners

'The whole world's watching' was once a political protest chant that was based more on hope than fact. This week's rescue of 33 trapped miners made the slogan a reality. Estimates of the number of people who watched reached over a billion.

Why was the story so compelling to so many? What was your reaction?

With guest host Andrew Nichols.

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Today we want to talk about the Chilean mine rescue ...if you missed it you must have been on another planet. The story dominated the news around the world all week. Estimates put the number of people who tuned in to watch at over a billion around the globe. Some observers called it a triumph of the human spirit. Others called it media overkill. What do you think? Did you watch?

The story started over two months ago when a cave-in blocked the tunnels of the gold and copper mine deep underground. The 33 men trapped were not injured and they had safe places to shelter ....but it took 17 days before contact was established with them from above. A small hole was drilled ...large enough to pass food, water, mesages and even video cameras. From that point on, the world was treated with images of the miners and a steady stream of information about who they were and how their families were handling the situation. Some critics say the process from then on was stage managed by the Chilean government to its own advantage. The government said they only had the best interests of the miners in mind ...but that they also tried to accommodate the insatiable curiosity of people around the world about the plight of the miners.

Three drill rigs were brought in to drill larger holes down through the solid rock ...large enough that the miners could be lifted out. One Canadian firm from Calgary was involved. At the time, experts said the job would take until Christmas. Everybody wondered how on earth the men would cope for so long trapped three-quarters of a kilometer underground. When one of the drill rigs broke through months earlier, the excitement travelled around the world fed by almost two-thousand journalists camped out at the site.

Why was the world so captivated by this story? Are we hungry for good news stories? Is there any similarity with the drama involved in rescuing Haitians trapped in the rubble of the earthquake?

Is there something primal about being trapped underground that all people can relate to? There are lots of mining disasters every year, why was this one so interesting ...was it just the sheer length of time it took to rescue the miners?

Did some of the coverage go overboard? Did you get more detail than you wanted?

Our topic today: "What is so compelling about the Chilean miners story? Did you watch?"

I'm Andrew Nichols on CBC Radio One and on Sirius satellite radio channel 137 this is Cross Country Checkup.


  • Eva Salinas
    Editor of English language daily Santiago Times in Chile.

  • Bob McDonald
    Host of CBC Radio One's Quirks and Quarks.

  • Christopher Dornan
    Teaches journalism at Carleton University and is Director, Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs in Ottawa.

  • John Sandlos
    Mining historian, associate Professor Department of History Memorial University of Newfoundland in St John's.

  • Jonathan Franklin
    A correspondent for The Guardian in Chile, where he's lived past 15 years. He has signed a book deal to write the story of miners and their rescue.



Globe and Mail

National Post

Calgary Herald

The Guardian UK

Telegraph UK

New York Times

Wall Street Journal

The New Republic

Washington Post

Media Bistro

Spiked online



I think the reason I clung onto these miners was because we are all being trapped in our own 'mine' fields. Possessions, property and profit margins seem to be all too important as we attempt to tunnel ourselves out of debt and despair. The bare and meagre facts of their situation was a beacon for our own motives and operations as we try to ride out our worship of the dollar and fears of the attendant demon debt collector. The Chileans are very spiritual and fiercely nationalistic. When the last miner was hauled into sunlight we all were reminded of our faith and belief in our collective destiny underground and beneath the stars. I also think the media thinks it was solely responsible for finally bringing us some good news. CNN and all the other networks did not exactly feature nor did they censor the word 'God' in their news flashes... a good sign for those tough enough to still believe we are not alone in life.   

John Jacobson,
Brandon, Manitoba.


I am never surprised how the media jumps on the word miracle. There is no miracle here. An experienced team of miners had the wherewithal to save themselves, stay calm and await rescue. Above ground there was a team of experts and the best machinery money could buy. The hand of God is nowhere to be found and had they relied on God alone for their saving they would be dead now. Doing a quick search there is an endless trail of stories about the Chilean "miracle". Does this mean God hates Chinese miners where 20 have just died and 17 are missing. I cannot find one headline that reads "Chilean miracle saves 33 miners" followed by "God hates Chinese miners, 37 dead"

George Mawhinnie,


Why is this story so compelling? Is that your question of the day? I don't believe that there is a person on earth who would not feel for these people. What could be more compelling than to see 33 fellow humans safely returned after what must be the worst experience known to man.

Louise Spencer,
Campbell River, British Columbia.


I did not watch the rescue. I though it was unfortunate that there were such dangerous working conditions that put these men in such danger in the first place and found it ironic that the president promised to root out and punish all those responsible when the first place he might look is the mirror.

Richard Mackinnon,
Hamilton, Ontario. 


I am relieved that the 33 trapped miners in Chile have been rescued. Many of the men praised God for freeing them. I don't understand why they aren't angry with God for causing the collapse that trapped them in the first place.

Jerry Steinberg
Vancouver, British Columbia.


Two things make this remarkable: This was the victory that the Kursk incident was not. Secondly, when there are large numbers, factions can develop and the leaders of these groups can seriously undermine the concerted efforts of a natural leader to try to maintain group cohesion. I don't really understand how they did so well for so long when this natural tendency so often compromises peace and good order in trying circumstances.

Crandell Overton,
Comox, British Columbia


I watched, being unable to imagine being that far down for that long. We are talking about the happy ending of the Chileans and my thoughts go to the Chinese miners who are trapped Possibly they had watched the Chilean situation. I wonder what they are thinking right now. Do they believe that their government is as interested in rescuing them as Chile & the world were? There is a horrendous track record of mining deaths in China.

Tamarah Rose Antares,
Calgary, Alberta.


One caller mentioned the Moose River mine cave-in in 1936. There were three men trapped and one died before the rescue. I googled the topic and found that on the CBC archives you can read the story and hear the CBC broadcast by J. Frank Willis. So anyone interested will find several articles about it.

Al Stevenson,
St. Catherine's Ontario.


I hope that those 33 miners, once they've had a well-deserved rest, will become outspoken advocates for mine safety, both in Chile and around the world. In the few days since their rescue, there have already been two more mine disasters - one in Ecuador and one in China. With their new-found celebrity status, think of how much good they could do by drawing attention to the need for better mine safety laws in all countries around the world.

Eleanor Grant
Waterloo, Ont.


What was super spectacular was that 33 miners were discovered after all of that time and they were all still alive. During the drilling time they still all survived and all 33 were rescued. I wonder if that much effort and expense would have been spent if there were only a man or two still surviving.

Irene Lambert


Being from Dowling, Ontario, a small community on the outskirts of Sudbury, Ontario I grew up with a father and one brother and many friends being miners. I remember hearing my father talking about how dangerous mining was, hardrock mining being safer than coal, but dangerous all the same. I recall the hours of volunteer work for the mine rescue team that my father and co-workers did, just to be prepared in case of an emergency.

After being away from the Sudbury District for several years, I returned two summers ago. During that time I had the opportunity to go down into a working mine. I do believe the feeling of going down in the cage and knowing that there were several hundreds of feet of earth above me and if something happened I may not be able to return to the surface and other thoughts had gone through my mind.

Only after that visit, did I learn to respect and admire the people who are miners and not take for granted items I use everyday which would not be produced were it not for the people who mine the minerals. Only after that visit and learning what the miner is required to know and what they are required to endure on a daily basis, did I learn to appreciate where I grew up. Watching the men of Chile and their ordeal brought back memories of home and what could happen.

Marie Humphrey Schram,
Iqaluit, Nunavut.


I did not watch the entire rescue, although I did keep up with the reports of progress. Now, however, it's time to leave these men alone and let them get back to normal, if that's ever going to be possible. If something like a book or a movie comes of it, OK.  What would be more interesting to me is an exploration of the who and the how the exercise developed and what any likely outcome awaits. But enough coverage of the men themselves.
Patti Scott
Vancouver Island, British Columbia.


That this incident allowed for the use of new, experimental technology from a country not recognized as being a world leader in technology and that it was so successful and had a happy ending is amazing and has had the world enthralled. I wonder if perhaps the BP oil spill might have had a happier ending if other countries and other companies had been given the opportunity to play a part in ending it.

Judy Falconer,
Edmonton, Alberta


I for one, as an atheist, find in unfathomable that people still believe that prayer had anything to do with their survival or rescue. Why can't we simply recognize the heroic efforts of the rescuers and the work they did in bringing this entire episode to a wonderful conclusion.

Doug Wheeler
Nanaimo British Columbia.

A real life drama, unscripted, compelling viewing. The unbridled joy of the miners reaching the surface, not a professional sports person elated from winning, to which we have so much exposure to and where their feats don't make a difference to our everyday lives. A good news story. Really, 'good' understates the rescue.

Ross Smith,
Niagara Falls, Ontario.


While the story of the mining disaster was riveting for reasons all your callers have identified, a possibly greater disaster for the community lies ahead, one that will not likely be covered by the media at all. That disaster is the announcement by the Chilean government that the mine will not be re-opened, of course, due to its numerous shortcomings. That will, I believe, put the 360 people who worked there, in substandard conditions, no doubt out of economic necessity, out of work, out of money and out of the limelight. A grisly outlook, though not media-friendly.
Duncan Armstrong
Halifax, Nova Scotia.


As a Canadian living in the United States, I must say it has been hard to miss the repeated demands from some contenders in the current mid-term election campaign to "get goverment off the backs of the people."  Imagine if the Chilean government had not taken control of efforts to rescue "los 33?"  Would the world have witnessed the stunning return to terra firma of men who had been virtually entombed for 10 weeks?  Let us not forget when the US government did not assume ownership of the Hurricane Katrina, creating more misery and uncertainty for people already rendered homeless and jobless.  The Bush administration, instead of taking control, allowed too many contractors, middle-men and sundry others to enrich themselves at the expense of the people in need of assistance.  Similarly, the Obama administration was tepid in its response to the Gulf oil blow-out. The Chilean government has offered us a template of how disaster response should be handled. The stoicism of the miners, the resolve of their families were matched by the determination of their politicians and their demonstration of how government resources, skillfully marshalled and efficiently directed, can be a tremendous source of good for their people. A class act all around.
Therese Rickman-Bull,
Belllingham, Washington.


Why were people around the world so riveted by coverage of the Chilean miner's rescue? For the same reason they flock to YouTube to cheer on Susan Boyle or why they still gather round TVs at Christmas to watch reruns of It's A Wonderful Life. In an era in which globalized, seemingly conscience-less capitalism is allowed to run rough shod over workers, stories which honour the bravery of the common man or woman offer us a more balanced and ultimately truthful, perspective.

Joyce Kilne,
Victoria, British Columbia.


Yes, we watched, compulsively, perhaps for different reasons. My husband's grandfathers were both miners, so he was understandably gripped by the events. For me, it was such a relief to see money and effort expended unstintingly on saving people's lives for a change. So much of our news is about money and effort expended on threatening, terrifying, maiming and killing each other, to the point where we are sickened by it. It was wonderful to see it spent constructively for a change. This is what we want.

Margaret Clare Ford
Orillia, Ontario.


It is important to note that the current President of Chile, Mr. Pinera, who took power in March just two weeks after a devastating earthquake struck the country. He is not a life-long politician, nor is he responsible for safety in Chilean mines. He was a very successful business man and is amongst the top 500 in terms of personal wealth. His mining minister is similar, having run several very successful businesses in South America. These guys set out to execute a business case in effect to rescue the miners at all cost ($15-20M) So we can ease off on how bad the safety is in Chilean mines. At 35 deaths so far in 2010, they are less than 2% of what is an average year in China. 

Jeffrey Brooks
St Marthe, Quebec.


I think that the fact that these men were first seen as bright eyed and healthy and in good spirit, made a big difference in the type of rescue. Media attention may be what helped make sure they got out at all. We felt we knew them. Sure there is lots of credit being given for the rescue technology, but more hi-tech safety in mining processes worldwide and safety regulation and penalties are heavily warranted. It's usually an economic reason given for unsafe conditions. I doubt mine owners and managers live on minors wages or work in unsafe environments, or suffer economically very much as a consequence. If a movie or book is made about this, it could not compare to the real rescue drama.

L. Redmond,
New Westminster, British Columbia.


Here is angle that has not been mentioned much. The sheer technical excellence of the rescue, particularly the Schramm Drilling rig and the Center Rock drill bit - both small Pennsylvania based companies. They reached the miners two months earlier than first estimates. American technology, manufacturing and small business still rocks, not to mention Canadian companies such as Precision Drilling.

David Hargrave
Nanaimo, British Columbia.


One aspect I haven't heard yet about this story was the solidarity of the human spirit when a disaster happens in the world, whether it be a tsunami, a hurricane or miners trapped underground. The world came to the rescue. Much of the world prayed for the success of this "mission" and we would not have known much about it if not for the media, overkill or not. There were NASA experts, mining experts form all over the world; Canadians, Americans, Brits and many, many others. It was a global effort pulling together for these 33 men and their families. We know more about Chile and its people now as we know more about New Orleans, Haiti, Southeast Asia. The world was "pulling together" for these men and their families and those there to help. This story brought out the best of humanity again and again taught us how much alike we are regardless of the colour of our skin or our religious affiliation. It showed us again how much we all need each other and the gifts contained within our worldwide community. I think it taught us how we should live - pulling together in peace, caring about and supporting each other. It taught us that peace is possible

Sonia Dube,
Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario.


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