33 Miners from Atacama, Chile: A Tragedy, then a Drama, and Finally Legendary Epic

One year ago all 33 miners trapped during 70 days at mining San José, Copiapó, in the desert of Atacama, Chile, were rescued alive.

This rescue mission, that engaged a whole country and attracted global media attention is probably one of the most successful crisis event in recent history.

We proceeded at Media Reputation and Intangibles Center of Universidad de Navarra to a media impact and reputation analysis. We published a report, and the conclusions were distributed and published by media in Chile.

This is a report in Spanish, and it is freely available at Country Reputation, MRI Universidad de Navarra or download here the report.

We reprint here some of the figures of our report as published by El Mercurio, Chile.

They show the following results:

1. The rescue history was the single event most notorious in recent Chile history, in terms of global media impact. It outpaced the number of news created by massive earthquake in February 2010.

2. Media coverage received by each individual miner was basically in line with their rescue order. Exception made for the last one, who captured increased attention. From all analysis we concluded that no individual hero was identified, and this would always become the story of all 33 heroes. This team-effect instead of a single hero is an advantadge for Chile as a country, as it tends to capture all positive reputational impact.

3. The event was a massive reward for President Sebastián Piñera, who was highly and personally involved in the rescue plan and operation. He outpaced the initial protagonism reached by Minister Laurence Golborne. One year later, President Piñera is facing huge political (and reputational) problems linked to students’ protests.

The Epic Story, in Three Acts

We consider the event as a perfect storyline for media that, as a result gathered massive worldwide attention in the final stages of the rescue operations. The perfect conclusion with all lives spared created a unique media momentum, fuelling positive feelings, creating a sentiment of a shared project.

As we have tried to show in our report, this event created an enormous positive reputational effect for brand Chile.

We want to show here why we understand this event as a canonical epic story, this being the source of the natural massive media attention.

We complement our explanation with a selection of images representatives of each stage. Some of them come from a BBC document.

Act 1: The Incommensurable Tragedy

August 5, 2010. This should be the worst day ever in the desert of Atacama. News arrive quick to Copiapó. A natural gas explosion has blocked mine San José. 33 miners are unnacounted. They were working in the deepest section of the mine, 700 meters underground. A tragedy of unprecedented dimensions spread pain in families and relatives. It becomes quickly a national tragedy.

Against all kind of hope, the rescue team started operations trying to reach the are where the miners were expected to be if still alive. A number of exploratory boreholes were created by percussion drills. Efforts failed many times, and several boreholes drifted off-target. The distance was to huge, the rock too resistent. Painful repeated efforts were made to reach the refuge.

One drill reached the area by August 19, 14 days after the collapse, founding no signs of life. Three days later, another borehole reached an emergency shelter in the refuge area. When the drill was pulled out, engineers discovered atonished that it contained a message, revealing that there were still miners alive 17 after the accident. An immense wage of joy thrilled the camp.

Then the miracle happened: the message anounced that all 33 miners were safe, with no fatality: “Estamos bien en el refugio los 33”. The subsequent joy was unstopable.

Soon, it was even possible to have direct voice contact with the trapped miners.

The story that emerged as a terrible tragedy closed its first act as a movement of imense joy and gratitude to God.

Act 2. The Drama: A Titanic Mission.

Euphoria moved into intense preoccupation when rescue team realized the impossible mission that they were called for: try to rescue 33 surviving miners trapped 700 meters underground, will all access channels completely destroyed by the explosion and collapse. There were no previous records of even such and attempt. Of course, there were no precedent rescue mission saving lifes in curcumstances half as hard as present. Would this joy transform into a nighmare of a slow agony of 33 confined miners?

This was the stage of continuous ‘never give up’ moments and decisions when facing the expected unsurmontable obstacles and difficulties.


Visual contact was reached by August 28.


The cycle of life: a trapped miner is father again. Esperanza (Hope) is the name of Ariel Ticona’s  third daughter.

Struggling day and night. A nation behind


According to Wikipedia, citing The Santiago Times, “The Chilean government developed a comprehensive rescue plan modeled on the successful 2002 US Quecreek Mine Rescue, itself based on the 1963 German Wunder von Lengede rescue operation. Both previous rescues had used a “rescue pod” or capsule to winch trapped miners to the surface one-by-one.

This was time of ingeniosity, crisis management, team working and leadership and just-in-time design of new strategies and plans.


And by October 9, the rescue project reached the goal:  Plan B’s Schramm T130XD was the first to reach the trapped miners.


They achieved the impossible. And all the camp was transformed again in joy and euphoria.


Act 3: The Story Becomes Epic: Eternal Glory or Unbearable Failure and Pain

Now the impossible was possible. The-never-done-before was about to happen. All 33 miners could be returned to their families safe. We world could assist admired to a singular collective conquest by Chile.

Being so close to the immense success created the conditions for the intense drama in the final stages of the rescue operations: now all 33 miners must be saved! If only one dies, joy will be melt with terrible disappointment and frustration. Pulling out all of them became a duty. Each miner saved would increase the anxiety for the fate of the repaining trapped miners.

And the final rescue mission commenced.


Heroes, and the essence of hope


United we can

The end of agony, unconfined happiness



And they came back, one by one. All of them.


They were all heroes. The mission was acomplished. They become eternal. It became a legendary epic story, an story that will be narrated forever.

This is why we consider this event as a perfect epic story. That’s why it attracted global media attention and why it produced enormous reputational lasting benefits for Chile brand.

As an illustration, we show a selection of cover pages of newspapers from all over the world, the day after the rescue, showing admiration to Chile.








2 thoughts on “33 Miners from Atacama, Chile: A Tragedy, then a Drama, and Finally Legendary Epic

Comments are closed.