Thursday, October 14, 2010

World starved for good news feasts on Chile -- Oct.14, 2010 column


The Chilean miners’ dramatic rescue drew hordes of American media – but that wasn’t all. News organizations worldwide could not resist the story’s gravitational pull.

News outlets from 33 countries on five continents reportedly converged on the Atacama desert in Northern Chile to cover the 22-hour rescue.

Interestingly, the Chileans made sure the miners were ready for the media’s prying eyes. For nine days before the rescue, a Chilean former journalist named Alejandro Pino gave the miners tips via video link on how to talk to waiting reporters, the Washington Post reported.

After the 33 miners – clean shaven and clad in cool, green jumpsuits -- and their six rescuers were safely above ground, with the miners in far better health than many had predicted, even sober-sided news organizations went as soft as warm brie. The BBC’s blog concluded, “In the end, a potential tragedy in a remote corner of the world has been utterly transformed into one of the greatest tales of good news ever told.”

The phrasing was extravagant, but it hardly seemed an exaggeration. The world, starved for good news, suddenly had a feast. The 69-day ordeal for the miners trapped deep underground ended in a triumph of faith, hope and science. This story had something for everyone.

ABC News called the rescue the “Miracle in the Mine.” These days, we throw around words like miracle to describe everything from face cream to the latest electronic gizmo. But this time the word seemed right: 69 days is reportedly the longest period humans have ever lived underground.

Many people credited the religious faith of the miners with their survival. A 55-year-old miner had asked for Bibles, which had been dropped through the supply tube, and he had led a prayer group. As they came to the surface, many miners prayed.

Miners’ family members and friends and the Chilean government preserved hope when circumstances were most dire. The mine collapsed Aug. 5, and 17 days passed before anyone knew the miners had survived. Their provisions were so reduced that they were down to eating a spoonful of tuna a day. A small tube the size of a grapefruit was inserted to ferry supplies nearly half a mile down.

Science and engineering then came into play. Thanks to fiber optics, each miner received a daily doctor’s consultation on video, according to the New York Times, which reported that NASA doctors and Chilean Navy officers with submarine experience were consulted on the strains of prolonged confinement.

For Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, a billionaire with a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard who took office only in March, the catastrophe became a point of national pride – and poetry.

“We have lived a magical night, a night we will remember throughout our lives, a night in which life defeated death,” Pinera said of the rescue.

And, he said, “We did it the Chilean way. That means we did it well.”

The crisis called out the best in the United States as well. President Barack Obama commended the Chileans and praised the Americans involved: “from the NASA team that helped design the escape vehicle to American companies that manufactured and delivered parts of the rescue drill to the American engineer who flew in from Afghanistan to operate the drill.”

As the miners emerged from what was called the shift from hell, each wore protective sunglasses provided free by the Oakley eyewear company, based in California. The glasses retail for $200 a pair, according to Oakley’s Web site.

The miners are safe, the focus on Chile has boosted sales of Chilean wine, and there may even be an uptick in Chilean tourism.

But the story doesn’t end just because the news glare does. The magical night with its miracle in the mine may yet have a darker side.

Life for the miners may turn from ecstasy to melancholy as they learn what it means to live as celebrities. Upon investigation, the state-owned copper and gold mine may be found to have been poorly managed or rife with safety problems. Pinera in time may govern disappointingly – and in prose.

Still, what may happen down the road should not dim our joy. We needed some good news, and we got it.

© 2010 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Ms. Mercer's top-notch writing captures the essential facts and the national mood re the rescue of the 33 miners in Chile. Thank you, Ms. Mercer. It is a pleasure to find in one place a succinct overview of what one ought to know about an event that the whole world acclains.

    While we admire the courage and steadfastness of the 33 miners, we also think the men who volunteered to go underground to rescue the miners are greatly to be admired, especially the last one out.

    A really great feel good story. Bravo.