Guests: Victor Zamora, Samuel Avalos, Carlos Barrios, Mario Sepulveda,
Mario Gomez, Alex Vega
ED SCHULTZ, HOST (voice-over): On August 5th, 2010, an underground
mine collapsed, rocking the Chilean desert and trapping 33 copper miners
half a mile below. For 17 days, the miners didn`t know if they would live
VICTOR ZAMORA, CHILEAN MINER (through translator): Myself, I was
already dead. I was alive, but I was dead.
SCHULTZ: And as their limited food supply ran out, an ugly Darwinian
SAMUEL AVALOS, CHILEAN MINER (through translator): The devil came to
visit us. We weren`t alone. There was an evil presence. I personally
felt there was an evil presence.
SCHULTZ: Soon, the miner`s thoughts turned to the ultimate taboo.
CARLOS BARRIOS, CHILEAN MINER (through translator): We could have
easily ended up eating one of our companions. I always thought it could
SCHULTZ: And now, the inside story of their darkest days, "17 Days
(on camera): For 17 days, the Chilean miners had no contact with the
world above. They feared they would never be found. Die of hunger or
thirst, become entombed, forgotten.
Until now, they had a sworn pack not to speak publicly about what
happened during those 17 days. This is their story, as told by six of
those miners. There were no video cameras during those 17 days, so to
document what happened, some of their fellow miners re-enact their horrible
It is a tale of survival and endurance, bringing to the fore mankind`s
best attributes, and some of his worst.
(voice-over): That August morning, as the miners began their hour-
long drive down into the mine, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The
copper mine at San Jose was infamous and even paid higher wages to
compensate for a bad safety record.
For Mario Sepulveda, that extra money supported his goal to bring his
family out of the debilitating poverty he grew up with.
MARIO SEPULVEDA, CHILEAN MINER (through translator): I had to work to
feed myself from the age of 13. I don`t want my son to go through the
same. I want him to grow up with a father to give him an education, so
that he can become an important person, a professional.
SCHULTZ: Samuel Avalos was new to the mining life, after hustling on
the streets selling CDs. Mining provided him with his first regular wage.
AVALOS (through translator): I loved that mine. I loved the risk,
the danger of the roof, the explosives, the machinery, the trucks, the
smoke, crazy stuff. But I loved it.
SCHULTZ: For Victor Zamora, the dangerous state of the mine was a
constant concern, since his job was to reinforce weak sections of the
mine`s five miles of tunnels.
ZAMORA (through translator): I had been warned about that mine, but
because the payment was good, I just went. We started to see
irregularities in the hill. It made noises, but people said that was
normal. After a bit, we didn`t pay much attention to it any longer,
because after three or four times you get used it to. One adapts one`s
self to the mine.
SEPULVEDA: I drive a 450 scoop. My boss was down there guiding me
with his lights. My first cut was perfect, and the second one. Then on
the third cut, my boss started complaining.
So, I get off the machine angrily about to say, come on, boss, what`s
the deal? I go over to him and ask, what`s the matter? He shouts, take
out your ear plugs.
So, when I take them out, my ears felt like they had burst.
ZAMORA: The rumble began. It sounded as if there was a for inside.
I began to tremble. I don`t know if it was fear or the terror of dying.
SCHULTZ: No one was even sure how many men were still in the mine.
Victor Zamora remembers working his way up the main tunnel, which miners
called the Ramp.
ZAMORA: We continued on the truck up the tunnel. Then we saw
everything was blocked. There were big stones. The hill was still making
You could see the worry on everyone`s faces. Some went silent and
shrunk back. They worried if they`d get back. Some were stronger than
I went quiet at that point, answering my own questions.
AVALOS: I told myself, that`s it, this is where I die. This is as
far as I go.
SCHULTZ: Coming up, rescue workers arrive, and in a race against
time, scramble a plan to save the 33 trapped miners.
RESCUER: The escape shaft is completely blocked. It no longer
SCHULTZ (voice-over): Over 2,000 feet above the trapped miners, the
first rescuers were arriving. With no accurate geological maps of the
mine, they had to improvise as they had to work out where the survivors
might be located.
RESCUER: This rescue is tough. The devil is somewhere down here.
SCHULTZ: With the mountains still up stable, the first rescuers drove
down the main tunnel to see if there was a way through to any survivors.
RESCUER: We arrive at the first -- at the first collapse that
occurred, stopping any vehicles or people getting through.
SCHULTZ: Back at the mine entrance, a manager read a roll call of the
names of the 33 missing, feared dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Carlos Alberto Barrios Contreras. Mario
Sepulveda. Victor Zamora. Alex Vega Salazar. Samuel Avalos Acuna. Osman
SCHULTZ: Far below, the miners found their way to the mine`s
emergency shelter. There they were able to establish for the first time
who had been trapped. There were 33 of them. Mario Sepulveda prayed for
SEPULVEDA: Dear Lord, give me the chance to live, to bring up my son.
I stuck with that prayer in my soul and my heart. And my daughter, my
beautiful 19-year-old. I thought on that and became fixated on getting out
SCHULTZ: Sepulveda led a team to inspect the escape shafts. Carlos
Barrios remembers what they discovered. The shafts had not been properly
maintained in large sections of the escape ladders to the surface were
BARRIOS (through translator): I saw there were holes. I reached out
and grabbed the ladder. Rocks started falling all around me.
Then I realized a big rock had fallen past me and I couldn`t go any
AVALOS: They said, man, you know what? We`re screwed. This thing is
full of rubble, completely full of dirt and water.
So, we yelled up, "Get down here, man, right now."
BARRIOS: Some thought we would be there for a few days. I don`t
remember desperation then, and we began to think about food.
SCHULTZ: The men were expecting to find at least two day`s worth of
stored food in the shelter as required by mine regulations. The mine`s
managers had once again failed to prepare properly for an emergency.
BARRIOS: There was hardly anything. Cans of tuna, a can of salmon,
some crackers, all very bad.
There was a lot of cutlery, forks and knives. But nothing to eat.
MARIO GOMEZ, CHILEAN MINER (through translator): I knew that place
like the back of my hand. I was among the better known of the miners. I
was the oldest of the 33.
We organized ourselves. He cleared the place, made our beds. We
talked things through, how we might get out.
SCHULTZ: The 33 men had to accept there would be no way out that
night, or maybe ever. This mine might become their tomb.
AVALOS: I slept, but with one eye open, watching. You should have
heard that silence, a silence from hell, total silence.
SCHULTZ: As the men tried to sleep below, on the surface, the
rescuers were using seismic tests to determine the extent of the damage.
It was revealed that eight separate levels of the mine had collapsed on top
of each other. A rock fall the size of the Empire State Building.
Wives and relatives of the missing from the nearby town of Copiapo
began to show up, including Lily Gomez, wife of the oldest miner.
LILY GOMEZ, MINER`S WIFE (through translator): I immediately went to
the mine, the first woman to arrive. There were lots of men. Everybody
was desperate. No one knew what was happening. No one knew anything.
The boss came and said, "Don`t worry. Tomorrow, we`ll bring in
machines and clear the blockage and all the miner also be out." I told
him, "You can`t fool me. I know the state that mine is in, and it`s
collapsed. That`s not a day`s work."
SCHULTZ: The rescuers were now going down the same escape shafts the
trapped men had try to climb up, and with no more success.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`ve explored as far down as we can go for now.
The left hand shaft has collapsed. The escape shaft is completely blocked.
It not longer exists. We`ll find another way. We`re done here.
L. GOMEZ: We said, we`re not leaving, because if the families leave,
our men will remain there. They were leaving them down there.
When they closed the mine, that was the worst moment. So, we picked
up sticks and iron bars and formed a chain to prevent the trucks from
AVALOS: Since it was quiet down the mine, we all thought it was on
top, as well. So we started drilling into the mountain.
Quickly put a drill up there and up it went. We were just trying to
send out signs of life.
SCHULTZ: Coming up, the miner`s life underground becomes a hell on
AVALOS: It was all wet. It was hot as hell.
SCHULTZ: And a fearful divide grows between old and young.
BARRIOS: The older ones were more worried. They thought the younger
ones could last longer.
SCHULTZ (voice-over): Now trapped for two days, the miners use drills
and car horns in an effort to be heard above. They also lit fires in hope
the smoke would travel up the escape shafts, anything to show proof of
AVALOS: It was all wet, it was hot as hell.
And the air, the air was terrible.
SCHULTZ: The temperature in the mine was like a furnace, over 100
degrees. But the men would drink from the large supply of industrial
water, stored to cool the drilling equipment. The water was wet, but far
from clean. They also removed batteries and headlights from their vehicles
to rig up makeshift lighting.
SEPULVEDA: We got organized from the first day. We were an amazing
We were workers. There were no professionals down there, only
SCHULTZ: On the third day, a further collapse made any rescue via the
main tunnel impossible.
Laurence Golborne, the Chilean minister for mines, was on site and
reported the bad news to the families.
LAURENCE GOLBORNE, CHILEAN MINISTER FOR MINES: All the technical
teams are searching for a different method for the rescue. We`ll keep you
informed of any developments.
SCHULTZ: The news was too much for Lily Gomez.
GOLBORNE: Like I said, we are not optimistic. The hope must be
realistic. The chances are worse than they were this morning.
L.GOMEZ: People said, senora, be prepared for anything. Don`t cling
to the idea that your husband and the others are alive. The situation is
very difficult. Be ready for any outcome.
I said, no, I won`t suffer, because I know they are alive and they
will get out.
BARRIOS: We would ask the Lord above all to take care of our
families, to take care of them and to help us get out.
Most people had given up on the idea of getting out of there.
SCHULTZ: The miner`s daily prayers were followed by a general meeting
where decisions were made by voting, establishing a democratic and fair
process from the beginning.
AVALOS: Mario Sepulveda was the man who asserted himself the most, a
sort of leader, spontaneous, nonelected. He`s the one who said, let`s do
this or that. He organized things.
BARRIOS: Then he took the role of cook, he would lay out all the
cups, 33 cups, all the little cups. He would mix a little bit of tuna and
water in a can.
SEPULVEDA: I really enjoyed doing that, never giving anyone a
millimeter more than the others. Always equal -- 33 equal portions, from
which ever angle you looked, they were all the same.
SCHULTZ: By day four, the 33 had established their daily routines,
but still wondered if anyone was even looking for them. So far, they had
heard no signs of a search.
ALEX VEGA, CHILEAN MINER (through translator): I remember we
discussed the accident in Mexico when some miners also got trapped. They
just put a gravestone on the surface. They made no attempt to rescue them.
That thought haunted us. We were afraid the same was happening to us.
ZAMORA: I wrote two letters and wrapped them in a plastic bag so that
if I didn`t get out, the decomposition of my body wouldn`t affect the
paper. I just wrote and wrote and wrote to my wife. I told her she was an
amazing woman, that she was young, that she would carry on with her life.
I was already dead, to myself I was already dead. I was alive, but I
As I walked by, I saw many of my companions crying. I asked them why
they were crying. They said, we`re not going to see our kids grow up.
SCHULTZ: Coming up, with the searing heat and little food, the
miners` will to live begins to ebb.
VEGA: I simply didn`t know if I would have the strength to last until
the drill found us.
SCHULTZ (voice-over): By day five, Lily Gomez had brought her family
to the mine, and along with other relatives, set up camp. They dubbed it
Their protest was a magnet for Chilean TV news and helped ensure the
authorities would not just abandon the missing men. Their campaign
succeeded. Soon, drills began to show up from all over Chile.
SCHULTZ: With still no audible sign of a rescue attempt, some of the
men began to lose hope, fearing they had been written off as dead.
M. GOMEZ: I told the youngsters to remain calm. I told them not to
panic, but also not to sit around. If you sit around, you start thinking.
Then you get depressed.
BARRIOS: We were on the ramp when one of the boys said, I can hear
something. Everyone went silent. From very, very far away, we could
barely hear a probe.
M. GOMEZ: I told them it`s going to take time. It`s not going to be
quick or easy. I tried to explain to them that if they followed the
official maps of the mine, they`ll probably end up in China.
SCHULTZ: The rescuers still had no accurate map of the mine.
Nevertheless, by the end of the first week, eight drills started pounding
into the desert rock below. Aiming for a small cavern 2,500 feet down
where they thought the shelter might be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`ve designed the drilling plan so any of the
probes can reach that area.
ZAMORA: Each time it sounded near, then it would stop. Then you felt
it far away.
Another rig was drilling again. It would reach some point, then stop.
Then start drilling again. It was torture.
ZAMORA: I saw Mario Gomez, and not only him. There were others who
got sticks and started to run around and listen.
M. GOMEZ: They would see me with a stick and laugh at me. They`d say
I was crazy. I would explain to me I was working out where the probes were
SCHULTZ: The miners knew the probes would take days, maybe weeks, to
hammer through the hard rock. With so much time on their hands, the 33
began to be plagued by troubling dreams.
ZAMORA: I saw my son down in the mine. He woke me up every day from
that wet piece of cardboard and made me get up.
I went out to look for help. I went to my house. I couldn`t get in,
so I went to my neighbor`s house. And I screamed at them that they
shouldn`t give up, that they should come and get me because I wanted to
live, that all of us were alive. I yelled at them to fight.
I didn`t want to wake up, because it was a beautiful dream.
SEPULVEDA: Psychology is full of phenomena. And within those
phenomena, I discovered just how much you could do with the mind. And
inside the mind, you create a world that isn`t a dream. You go beyond
that. Everything you love up there is here.
I created a world. If I hadn`t gone beyond and created this exterior
world around me, if I hadn`t lived it, I would have died.
SCHULTZ: One teaspoon of food every two days was taking a toll,
dividing the strong from the weak. In the searing heat and humidity, it
only made the situation worse.
It was especially taxing on Alex Vega, who already had kidney problems
and high blood pressure prior to the collapse.
VEGA: I had already lost 16 kilos. I was struggling to stand up. I
simply didn`t know if I would have the strength to last until the drilling
SCHULTZ: With conditions rapidly deteriorating, some of the 33
started to think about their own survival rather than the welfare of
AVALOS: One time when I was wandering around, I noticed the medicine
cupboard had been left open.
Of course. People went to sleep a little bit later and the saline was
gone. I became obsessed. Saline, saline, saline -- it was all about the
saline. I stole that saline.
What I did was bad, though good for one person.
VEGA: Everything was being shared equally. And then suddenly things
started to disappear. It wasn`t good for us. It shouldn`t have happened.
AVALOS: You see? It wasn`t easy. It meant more life, more days. If
war had broken out or gangs formed, the strong against the weak, or the
majority against the minority, something was going to happen. You could
feel something coming.
SCHULTZ: At Camp Hope, the two-week anniversary of the accident was
marked with the sounding of horns. The families were told by the
authorities that, with luck, one of the probes might reach the emergency
bunker that night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s only one option, we must succeed.
SCHULTZ: Down below, the growing sound of the pounding drills
convinced miners that they soon might be found.
ZAMORA: Despite having no strength left, we were listening, focused,
looking everywhere. We heard the probe come down through one of the
VEGA: So we followed it down from one level of the mine to the next
until we got to the bottom. Then we heard the probe disappear.
SEPULVEDA: It passed by and kept going and going and going and no one
knew where. And with it went life.
SCULTZ: The rescuers snaked a camera down the bore hole. It revealed
nothing but rock and rubble. Not realizing they were just feet from the
The families began to lose faith in the experts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`ve received devastating news today. This is
the third time. All the probes are aimed at one place. But it wasn`t the
right place. The target had been worked out using inaccurate plans. Based
on these facts, the results can`t be trusted. This probe went down over
2,000 feet and we haven`t obtained any results.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need, we want the world`s support. There are
human beings down there. Please don`t leave them there. We`ve fought so
hard. We`ve listened to their opinions. But please, let the ones who want
to be there, be there. There are miners who know. There are miners who
don`t need to use ladders. They just climb down. Why not give them a
SCHULTZ: Coming up: as their food supply runs out, the miners
consider the unthinkable.
AVALOS: It was a matter of who would go first. That was the
position. The first one to fade away, we would have pounced on him like
animals. It was coming.
ZAMORA: It was August 21st. We were down to the last can of tuna.
It was there waiting for us.
But one of us set an example. He was far sicker than the rest of us.
He suggested if we could manage not to eat for 48 more hours, that we could
make 72 hours without eating, two more days.
It was my friend, Alex Vega, who proposed the 72 hours. He encouraged
us to hold out longer. But he was in an even worse state than us.
VEGA: I had problems standing up. I had to do it very slowly. When
I got up, I had to stop for about a minute because my sight would get
blurry and everything turned black.
I waited for my eyes to clear and then started to move. Moving was so
difficult because I was so weak.
SCHULTZ: With their food almost gone, some of the starving miners
were now considering the final taboo.
BARRIOS: I could see people who were really weak. Maybe they were
considered dying, but we never said this guy is ready to go. The older
ones were more worried. They thought the younger ones could last longer.
AVALOS: It was a matter of who would fall first. That was the
position. The first one to fade away, we would have pounced on him like
animals. It was coming.
BARRIOS: We could have easily ended up eating one of our companions.
I always thought it could happen.
AVALOS: The devil came to visit us. We weren`t alone. There was an
evil presence. I personally felt there was an evil presence.
SEPULVEDA: On the 16th day, I got tired. Between the 15th and the
16th, we had watched the probe pass. So, on the 16th, goodbye.
But I never blamed God, never. I simply placed myself in his hands.
I`m just going to wait a while and rest. That`s what I said.
I dressed, just in case, like the great miner I am. Whatever would
happen, I was prepared for the end, my friend. I was going to go in a
dignified way, with my boots on.
If I was going to die, it did not matter. I`d die happy.
My dream was to come up the ramp, sin that song and the national
M. GOMEZ: I leaned against the wall and I felt the wall vibrating.
Some rocks started to fall down. I said, OK, this is where it`s going to
So I started to light up a specific spot. I saw the water was pouring
through. And suddenly the drill appears right there.
I was so happy. I thought there were only a few of us there, but when
I looked up, I saw everyone. And everyone was yelling at me, but I wasn`t
listening. I didn`t care.
I think that day was the happiest day. I cried that day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re hearing noises. They can hear something.
They are hitting the probe.
ZAMORA: We were hitting with our soles, not with our hands but with
our soles so they could hear up there that we were alive.
VEGA: So we did all of that. We hit the probe, tied the messages on
it. And after that, in my case, I went blank.
As if I couldn`t believe it. I couldn`t believe that the probe had
found its hole after all that time.
L. GOMEZ: I stood up to scream and I fainted. I didn`t go outside
the celebrate like the other families. Instead, I went and touched the
Virgin`s dress. I started to cry and told her that I knew she would not
SCHULTZ: Coming up, for the 33, after 69 days underground, their long
nightmare ends, finally.
AVALOS: It`s like a curtain being lowered. I could see the light. I
now know what babies feel when they arrive in the world, to see the light.
SCHULTZ (voice-over): On day 17, the rescuer`s camera found not run,
but the first images of the missing men. But they would have to wait
another 52 days before a large enough hole could be drilled to bring them
all to the surface.
The emergence of the first miners on October 13th, 2010, transformed a
disaster into a miracle.
REPORTER: It is an unbelievable scene here. It`s impossible to have
a dry eye as you can see the very first moments, the very first hugs.
SCHULTZ: Among the first brought up, Mario Sepulveda.
REPORTER: He practically burst out of that capsule, pumping his fists
into the air -- a sign of the energy and really the great condition that
have surprised all here.
SCHULTZ: Over the next 24 hours, the whole world watched as 33 men
emerged, one by one.
AVALOS: I yelled about everything inside the capsule as I went up to
the surface. Then you cross that amazing threshold, that horizon that was
produced. It`s like a curtain being lowered. I could see the light. I
know what babies feel when they arrive in the world, to see the light.
SCHULTZ: As each miner stepped into the light, they found themselves
briefly engulfed by worldwide fame.
Today, the mine at San Jose is abandoned and permanently closed.
Meanwhile, a government investigation found the mine owners at fault for
As for the miners, many remain unemployed. Others, haunted by the
painful memories of what they endured down below.
VEGA: I have nightmares. My wife tells me I talk in my sleep and
that I always talk about being inside the mine and most of all about the
first day of the collapse. When I was down the mine, I thought that when I
came out, I thought I would be a better family man. That I would be more
loving with my kids and my wife.
Unfortunately, things haven`t turned out that way.
L. GOMEZ: We are not heroes nor are they heroes. We are victims, and
they are victims of the bad, broken conditions and the bad management of
ZAMORA: The problem I have is that I haven`t left the mine yet. I`m
still down there. I like to be a millionaire. You know why? So I can
give the money to a poor person and in return, he has to give me back my
old self. I`d give him everything to be the person I was before.
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