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Out of sight…

Sometimes it takes a huge tumble to get the world's attention. For a while, everyone can see that which otherwise remains unseen, what passes for menial work. And then again, oblivion closes in

Upala Sen Published 26.11.23, 07:35 AM
Uttarkashi tunnel

Uttarkashi tunnel PTI photo

August 5 of 2010. Copper mine in Chile caves in, 33 miners get trapped 700 metres underground. At first, a local squad attempts rescue. That fails. A second cave-in happens. Maps of the mine structure are outdated, which delays rescue work. Two weeks later, a note is discovered; attached to one of the many probes used to detect signs of life, it reads: "Estamos bien en el refugio los 33... All 33 of us are all right in the shelter."

To the rescue


What follows are rescue efforts and frenetic planning. Machines are brought in, the government calls in Nasa Engineering and Safety Center to help. All the while, the world media is tracking every move. Drilling experts from at least a dozen countries on consult. Experts consulted on possible psychological impact on the miners. The clock ticks away. Alongside, food and medicines, letters from loved ones sent through tubes. Arrangements made so they can watch movies and live soccer matches. More days underground. There is an expert teaching them how to communicate with journalists when it is time. A psychologist holds counselling sessions with the miners underground. At some point cigarettes are sent down. A New York Times report from 2010 reads: “Some here at the mine have compared the rescue effort to the Apollo 13 space mission, for the emotional tension it has caused…”


After 69 days, the rescue. The miners emerge in a capsule called the Phoenix and painted in the colours of the Chilean flag. The makeshift tent, where their families have waited all this while, erupts with celebration. It is called Camp Hope. Later, the miners said a 34th miner --- God --- was always with them, keeping them safe. For a while, all is lights, camera and largesse.The miners go on all-expenses-paid trips to Crete, to Disney World. Manchester United invites them, gives them box seats to watch a match. They travel to Jerusalem. Of course, many of them had persistent health issues. Most were deemed unemployable for mining jobs. The mining company was deemed not guilty. Did they benefit from the Hollywood film on them? Were they suitably compensated for risky service? Were they suitably comforted for their trauma? Were adulation, free trips, book contracts what they needed? As the clock ticks on the Char Dham tunnel rescue operations, we could spare a thought for these things and do the needful when required, instead of wringing hands and hearts over a lost cricket match and baleful influences. There is always the 34th one, or the 12th to thank or blame.

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