Los 33

I didn’t sit up all night and watch the rescue of the Chilean miners. When I was younger, I certainly would have — I’d follow all kinds of news stories, all the stuff the media would spew out on crimes, trials, election counts — but I eventually came to realise that I didn’t really need to know instantly. Waking up in the morning and getting a summary was good enough.

None the less, I felt as emotional as anyone else  about the miners’ plight and the superb success of the rescue mission. Clearly, something about the incident resonates with us, but I wonder specifically what. After all, every day, all over the world, there must be incidents where people survive accidents or need to be rescued; or where lifeboatmen or fire crews or mountain rescue teams or paramedics are inspiringly heroic.

Was it the miners’ initial survival that struck us? For more than two weeks, they were cut off completely, not knowing if they would ever get out. We can empathise with the exultation, both below ground and above when contact was first made, and then that famous scrawled note attached to the probe: “Estamos bien en el refugio los 33”.

miners' rescueAs an engineer, I love the technical aspects of the rescue, and the teamwork and ingenuity displayed. Quite rightly, the Chileans are proud of their technical achievement — that Phoenix capsule is a work of art. (Although the drill ‘B’ which first finished an escape shaft is an American product.) The last six to come up in the capsule were the brave volunteers who had gone down to co-ordinate the ascent. Is it the team spirit and the selfless hard work of the whole rescue team that most inspires us?

Or is it that we can imagine ourselves in the miners’ situation? Or their familes’? All of the above, I suppose, although I also can’t help thinking that we have been manipulated by the news media circus. Heartwarming though it is, the story of the miners’ rescue can’t really be the most important story in the world.

Even just in the UK, we have a government which needs to have every move watched lest they quietly dismantle a century of social progress. Maybe that will be the number one story on the BBC and newspapers tomorrow.


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