Saturday 16 December 2017

Shift leader helped miners to stay calm

The Chilean miners were pinned nearly half a mile underground by 700,000 tonnes of rock after what felt like an earthquake in the shaft above them and had no real hope they would ever be found. Luckily, the men had Luis Urzua.

Mr Urzua (54) was the shift commander at the time of the disaster and used all his wits and his leadership talents to help his men stay calm and in control for the 17 harrowing days it took for rescuers to make their first contact.


It was no surprise, then, that Mr Urzua was the last of the 33 miners to leave the San Jose gold and copper mine after more than two months of confinement.

Mr Urzua -- after shaking hands and embracing rescue workers -- climbed into a cramped cage at 9.46pm and was hauled up from a narrow hole drilled through 2,000ft of rock. He arrived at the top 11 minutes later to jubilant cheers, songs and applause.

Under Mr Urzua's leadership, the men stretched an emergency food supply meant to last just 48 hours over two and a half weeks, taking tiny sips of milk and bites of tuna every other day. "We had only a little food," Mr Urzua said today. "We give thanks to God that we were able to resist" eating it all right away.

The trapped men made sparing use of their helmet lamps -- their only source of light other than a few vehicles. They fired up a bulldozer to carve into a natural water deposit, but otherwise minimised use of the vehicles, which contaminated the available air.

Mr Urzua described the difficulties of the first days, saying it took about three hours for the dust to settle before the men could inspect where tonnes of collapsed rock sealed off the main way out.

He said he knew they were in for a long wait. "I saw (the collapsed rock). Many thought it would be two days. But when I saw it, I knew otherwise," he said.

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