Millions watched across the globe. As breath bated and eyes waited, emotional synapses fired and the much-too-often unnoticed nobility of the human struggle became evident.
Luis Urzúa, the last of the 33 miners trapped over 2,000 feet below the Chilean earth’s surface, was lifted to his freedom earlier this week. He was the last to join a reluctantly merry band of 33, meeting a new-found lease on life and potential untold wealth, fame, fortune, and adulation.
Not to mention goodies too.
Beyond the now ubiquitous protective sunglasses donned by each man, the group received Apple iPod Touches, Playstation 3s, Greek vacations, Elvis products, and $10,000 from a Chilean mining executive named Leonardo Farkas. Westernized lifestyles await the bunch as rumors of big-dollar book and movie deal arrangements hang in the balance.
The amazing outcome of the mine crisis was not always assured. On August 5, as the news of the trapped miners reached his desk, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera faced two choices. First, to orchestrate a rescue plan in earnest but in private, out of the public and international eye. Second, to take the tragedy head-on and enlist the best and brightest, and to do so for the world to see. To take a chance in leadership, or to take the road often traveled and not.
Piñera turned to his worldview and belief in the ability of any market — even in crisis — to meet a demand. He turned to his illustrious career in business. He drew together international minds on mining, geology, and science. He consulted America’s own NASA, which devised the “Phoenix” capsule that retrieved the men and a rocket-science, space-age diet to inhibit claustrophobic nausea during their nearly half-mile ascent to the earth’s surface.
Even more, Piñera consulted drillers at Chile’s state copper giant Codelco who found the 33 miners to still be alive 17 days after the cave-in. He garnered aid from internationally owned Collahuasi, whose rig successfully drilled the shaft that the men were lifted from.
Proving his character, it wasn’t until the dust had settled from the amazing international effort that the Chilean president struck a more combative note. “This must never happen again,” he said to the 33 miners gathered around him as they were leaving San Jose. He continued, promising stricter standards and safer work conditions for the nation’s mining industry. He thanked private companies and governments worldwide for their help. It is notable that he did not attack the Chilean mining industry or offer up the 33 as fixtures of the industry’s “greed.”