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Trapped Miners in Chile, 2010

Every one of the trapped Chilean miners was rescued successfully.

Photo courtesy of NASA

When a mine collapsed near Copiapo, Chili, in August 2010, it could have turned into one of those tragedies the outside world notes, mourns and then forgets about. Instead, it was a 24/7 news story that had people tuning in for months: The 33 miners trapped beneath a half-mile of rock with two days of food were still alive.

What followed the cave-in was one of the most impressive rescue efforts in recent memory. More than a hundred rescuers, not only Chilean engineers and authorities but also NASA engineers and experts in submarine psychology, worked nonstop for more than two months to do what many feared was impossible.

Seven hundred meters beneath the surface, food and water rationing began as soon as the mine collapsed. Above ground, the rescue involved at least three drills, one of which was hauled 300 miles (482.8 kilometers) to the scene, and almost nonstop drilling for nearly two months. At two weeks in, the first drill reached the men, completing a small tunnel to send food and water down. In the following weeks the heavier work bore a rescue hole to haul the miners up through half a mile of solid rock. (Meanwhile, some of the miners trained to lose dozens of pounds to make sure they could fit in the rescue shaft.)

Past the midway mark, an earthquake struck less than 200 miles (321.9 kilometers) from the damaged mine, and drilling was halted while everyone held their breath.

In all, it took 68 days, international support and some determined individuals, both above and below the surface, to get every one of the 33 miners out -- relatively unscathed, considering their ordeal.

Up next: an ecosystem on the verge of collapse …

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