The 33 miners who stunned the world by surviving 10 weeks in a collapsed Chilean mine are enjoying renewed fame 5 years after their rescue. Their survival story is now on the big screen.
“The 33” tells the story of the men who became trapped while digging for gold and copper at the San Jose mine in northern Chile’s Atacama desert. When the mine suddenly caved in on August 5, 2010, they were forced into dark seclusion, 2,340 feet below ground.
During a stop in Philadelphia to promote the movie, Jose Henriquez talked about how he and his fellow miners made it to an underground shelter in the mine as the rocks kept crumbling. They found cans of tuna there and stretched out the tins’ contents to one teaspoon per day, per man. They did not know how long it would take for anyone above to discover they were alive.
Henriquez remembers saying praise over every meal no matter how tiny. “We gave thanks and asked God for guidance several times a day,” says the man who became known as “The Pastor” underground. He had seen his minister grandfather leading others in prayer and decided he would try to keep the group spiritually strong. “Faith was crucial to our survival, so we formed a sort of church below ground,” says Henriquez, adding the miners would sing hymns to keep their spirits up.
It took 17 days for families of the miners standing vigil by the mine to learn their loved ones had all survived. A team of American engineers who were in war-torn Afghanistan at the time rushed to Chile and broke through some of the hardest rock on earth to reach the miners to simply confirm they were even alive.
Colorado-based Jeff Hart had not seen his wife and two sons for a month by the time the drill he was manning bore its way to the joyous miners. As the crew pulled it out, a note wrapped around it read, “All 33 of us are fine and in the shelter.”
Suddenly there were probes with water, food, and medicines daily descending through the 6-inch wide hole. “We had everything we needed to survive, God had answered our prayers” says Henriquez. After another month of round-the-clock drilling a reinforced large enough tunnel was ready to hoist the men to freedom in a metal capsule named “Phoenix.”
October 12, the first miner surfaced a little after midnight. “It was absolutely a fairy tale come true because it actually worked out,” said Hart.
Henriquez did not come out until the afternoon of the next day, 70 days after the collapse. He was the 24th miner to exit.
Five years later, Henriquez says the ordeal was a God-sent, life-learning experience that has improved his life. “For me it was a blessing, an accident with a purpose,” he says. He says his survival has helped strengthen his faith and the faith of others. He is grateful for that role and for the many people he has met since the life-altering events, he says.
He and other miners often refer to experiencing a divine presence in the mine, a sort of “34th miner.” “I think the hero of this whole story is Jesus Christ,” said Henriquez. "He was with us every day. He has written a book about his ordeal, “Miracle in the Mine.”
On this fifth anniversary the miners are getting together. “For us October 13th is our new birthday,” Henriquez says.
Henriquez says he is honored that the miners' struggle is now a movie. He and the other 32 miners split their share of the movie profits evenly, as they did with the little bit of food and water that kept them alive in the mine.