Chile Miners Withholding Details of Ordeal

by | October 15, 2010 at 11:05 AM | TV News

Rescued Miner Carlos Mamani (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Rescued Miner Carlos Mamani (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

BY: Frank Bajak

COPIAPO, Chile – The first three rescued Chilean miners out of the hospital celebrated their new lives as national heroes Friday, as word emerged that the 33 want to closely guard their story so they can fairly divide the spoils of their media stardom.

That could explain why none of them have spoken publicly at any length or provided any dramatic details of their 69 days trapped a half-mile (1 kilometer) beneath the Atacama desert.

A daughter of Omar Reygadas, a 56-year-old electrician, told The Associated Press early Friday that he told her just hours earlier that the miners have agreed to divide all their earnings from interviews, media appearances, movies or books.

“He also said we can’t say things to the media without their permission,” said Ximena Alejandra Reygadas, 37. “He said they need to decide what we can tell the media.”

TV, Publishing Jumping on Miners Story

Hundreds of reporters abandoned the mine and descended on this gritty provincial capital on Thursday after the world watched the men’s nearly flawless rescue through a narrow shaft it took a month to drill.

A shift foreman at the San Jose mine who is close to many of the men told The Associated Press they have hired an accountant to track their income from public appearances and equitably distribute it.

Miners Rescue Rack Up Huge TV Ratings

“More than anything, I think the idea is to charge for the rights to everything that’s been shown about their personal life, of their odyssey. That way, they’re safe,” said Pablo Ramirez.

Ramirez, 29, had lowered himself deep into the mine’s bowels right after its Aug. 5 collapse in a failed attempt to reach his comrades.

“They’re going to be very close to the chest and will speak together as a group,” he said, while drinking rum and cola in a Copiapo restaurant.

Ramirez is out of a job with the roughly 360 other San Jose miners now that the government has decided to close the mine as unsafe. And while he said he’s got good job prospects as an experienced miner, his buddies were probably the most in-demand people on the planet.

A Greek mining company wants to bring them to the sunny Aegean islands. Football teams in Madrid, Manchester and Buenos Aires want them in their stadiums.

Bolivia’s president wants them at his palace. TV host Don Francisco wants them all on his popular “Sabado Gigante” show in Miami.

On Thursday, still wearing the fashion sunglasses designed to ease their readjustment to sunlight, the men posed in hospital bathrobes for a group photo with President Sebastian Pinera.

Solidarity helped the men survive the angst and uncertainty of being trapped under a 700,000-ton block that collapsed at the very center of the mine — the area Ramirez said everyone thought was the safest because that’s where a 5-mile (8 kilometer) ramp winds downward in a spiral. It’s on the ramp’s periphery that the miners blasted open veins of gold.

For the first two weeks, no one knew whether “los 33″ were alive.

After contact was made, a team of government psychologists engaged them in a grand social engineering plan, dividing them into groups, setting their work and sleep schedule, restricting the television and movies they could see. The miners were even barred from receiving iPods along with everything else fed them through the 5 1/2-inch pipe that served as their lifeline to the surface.

The chief psychologist, Alberto Iturra, left little to chance, and the assessment of the doctors who treated them was glowing. All the rest of the miners were expected to be out of the hospital Friday and over the weekend.

“We don’t see any problems of a psychological or a medical nature,” said Dr. Jorge Montes, deputy director of the Copiapo Regional Hospital.

Ramirez, as you’d expect from a man who embraces the risks of his profession, scoffed at the need for all the psychological treatment.

“When we first spoke to the miners down below … they weren’t in bad shape,” he said. “Psychologically, they weren’t in bad shape at all.”

But being thrust from the dark chambers of a gold mine into the limelight — and knowing how to cope with overnight fame — is quite another matter.

A few weeks before the rescue, Codelco’s deputy coordinator, Rene Aguilar, explained to an AP reporter why so little video of the miners was being publicly released.

“This is not a reality TV show,” he said.

It could easily inspire one, though.

There was little doubt that the show pitches began germinating in Hollywood before the wheels on the escape capsule had a chance to cool.

No one before them had been trapped so long and survived.

Among the most compelling stories will be Luis Urzua’s — the shift foreman whose strict food rationing helped the miners stay alive until help came.

Based on new details the miners shared Thursday with their families, the rationing appears to have been even more extreme than previously thought.

“He told me they only had 10 cans of tuna to share, and water, but it isn’t true the thing about milk, because it was bad, out of date,” Alberto Segovia said after visiting his brother Dario, who worked a jackhammer in the mine.

Other family members were told the tuna amounted to about half a capful from the top of a soda bottle — and that the only water they could drink tasted of oil.

The miners told relatives Thursday their rescue ride was as smooth as a skyscraper elevator. The rescue had been planned meticulously to provide the utmost safety.

But the miners and rescuers decided on Wednesday to discard a few safety measures and the media were never informed. For instance, the plan to monitor the miners’ faces for panic with live video on the way up — and to have them in constant two-way communication with rescuers — was jettisoned at the last minute.

Rescuers abandoned both the in-capsule camera and fiber-optic cable that would have had to hang all the way down to the bottom of the 622-meter (2,040-foot) hole.

The men said they would be fine and just wanted out, said Fabricio Morales, a technician with Micomo, the telecommunications division of the state mining company Codelco that ran the rescue operation.

The cause of the collapse remains under formal investigation, but one senior Codelco official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to be quoted in the media, told the AP that the mine’s owners had cut corners for years. “It lacked even a minimal amount of support beams.”

Ramirez acknowledged the corner cutting.

Twenty-seven of the miners are suing the owners.

The miners said it felt like an earthquake when the shaft collapsed above them, filling the lower reaches of the mine with suffocating dust. It took three hours before they could even begin to see, Urzua said.

Why any of them would go back underground may be hard for outsiders to understand. But most of these men have known no other work.

“Some of them will use other talents that they have — and can earn a lot of money now that they’re famous,” said Ramirez.

“But I think most will go back to the mines.”

An accident in central Chile on Thursday night reminded Ramirez’s countrymen of his job’s potential peril. A 26-year-old miner was crushed to death by rockfall at the Boton de Oro mine in Petorca state, its governor, Gonzalo Miquel, told state TV.

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