Miner Carlos Barrios steps from the rescue capsule.

Miner Carlos Barrios steps from the rescue capsule.

The principal wealth of our country isn't copper, it's the miners. It isn't natural resources, it's the Chileans.

—President Sebastián Piñera of Chile

If ever we needed a reminder of the humanity and hopes that we share, that moment in the desert was such. When a country like Chile puts its mind to it, there's nothing you can't do.... When the United States and others in the world do our part, there's nothing we can't accomplish together.

—President Barack Obama of the United States, speaking in Chile on March 21, 2011

Leading the Rescue

From the moment Chilean President Sebastián Piñera learned of the disaster, he committed his government to doing everything possible to bring the miners home.

He called on Minister of Mining Laurence Golborne to lead the operation, and asked mining engineers in Chile to provide technology and expertise—a request he also made of the international community. The response was overwhelming.

President Piñera meets with family members waiting for news at Camp Hope.

President Piñera meets with family members waiting for news at Camp Hope.

International Teamwork

People around the world not only watched the rescue effort, they contributed to its success.

Workers and drilling equipment came from the U.S., Canada and other nations; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration consulted on the effects of long-term isolation and rescue capsule design; and an Israeli company even sent anti-fungal socks for miners to wear in the steamy mine.

With Chilean leadership and mining expertise, the international team accomplished a rescue unlike any attempted before.

A Very Narrow Escape

Named Fénix, or Phoenix, for the legendary symbol of rebirth, the rescue capsule was designed and built by the Chilean Navy in consultation with National Aeronautics and Space Administration engineers.

Oxygen, a microphone to communicate with rescuers, and an escape hatch in the floor ensured the miners' safety. But, at 21 inches in diameter, the capsule was so narrow that nutritionists restricted the miners' diets to 2,500 calories a day to keep them slim enough to fit inside.

Illustration of Fénix rescue capsule (click image to enlarge)


On October 13, 2010, with the eyes of the world focused on Chile, workers at the rescue site hoisted the Fénix capsule to the surface 33 times over 22 hours. A joyous welcome greeted each miner, and they emerged looking stronger than anyone dared hope.

In a world all too accustomed to tragedy, the rescue touched off a global celebration. The men were no longer just miners, they were heroes.