“I waited for death and was tranquil. I knew that any moment the lights would go out and it would be a dignified death.”

—Mario Sepulveda, miner

large image of mine and rescue plans

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August 5, 2010, lunchtime, near the bottom of the San José mine: Most of the miners take a break in the dimly lit tunnels near the bottom of the mine. Suddenly, at 1:40 p.m., the unmistakable roar of a massive collapse fills the shaft, blasting a wave of dust and debris through the mine. Improbably, everyone survives. But when the men investigate, they find an enormous boulder sealing the exit.

Why the Mine Collapsed

Serious mining accidents are rare in Chile. But rising copper prices make even small mines profitable, and the vast number of working mines is a challenge to regulate. San José is a century-old web of tunnels and pillars weakened by extensive mining. When the mine collapsed, avalanches sent down layer upon layer of rock and a granite block the size of a house.

Unlike coal deposits, San José's ores lack flammable gases. There was no explosion.

Sharing the Light

In the days after the collapse, the miners organized themselves into teams to search for an escape route and to maintain their living area. Every hour, they sounded a horn, hoping someone would hear.

The foul, sweltering air burned their eyes, and they rationed food to less than a spoonful a day. Using a truck battery to run lights, they divided the hours into day and night. Together, the men tried not to lose hope.

grainy photos of four miners from underground.

top left: Claudio Yáñez
top right: Mario Sepúlveda
bottom left: Edison Peña
bottom right: Victor Zamora