Operation St Lawrence

By Fr. Joe Eruppakkatt SSP on 25-10-2010

Thirty-three miners were trapped in a damp and dark hole 700 meters
(half mile) below surface level for 69 days with not much hope for survival at
San Jose gold and copper mine in northern Chile. They were presumed dead for
first 17 days after the collapse of 700,000 tons of rock around them on August
5, 2010. But the news of their being alive emerged only after a grape-fruit
size hole was drilled into their unknown dungeon and they wrote a note and sent
it back to the surface. But their 69-day ordeal ended finally with Operation St
Lawrence when the rescue team lifted them one by one in a steel capsule they
codenamed Phoenix.

         The capsule, barely wider than a man's
shoulders was used to lift them out, one after another, via a shaft specially
drilled through 700m of solid rock. It has been an agonizing wait for the
miners' loved ones Camp Hope around the mine. In the
end, a potential tragedy in a remote corner of the world has been utterly
transformed into one of the greatest tales of good news ever told.

         Rescuer, Manuel Gonzalez, the first
human to experience the 'Phoenix' and the shaft, going down the mine, risking
his life, is a hero who should not be forgotten. And to add to his heroism, he
chose to be the last to come out of the mine. He helped all 33 miners and the
other rescuers to get into the capsule, but he had no one to help him. For
those few minutes he was alone in the dark dungeon!  His particular example of bravery shines out
in the euphoria of the rescue of the 33.

         Another hero is the 54-year-old Luis
Urzua who has been credited with showing the leadership that enabled the miners
to survive the first 17 days when they were entirely cut off from the outside
world. He kept them together even when there was no hope of rescue in sight.
And he voluntarily chose to be the last miner to come out. When Mr Urzua
emerged to jubilant cheers, songs and applause, he embraced the president of
Chile Mr Sebastian Pinera and said: “We have done what the entire world was
waiting for. The 70 days that we fought so hard were not in vain. We had
strength, we had spirit, we wanted to fight, we wanted to fight for our
families, and that was the greatest thing.” Mr Pinera replied: “I congratulate
you because you did your duty, leaving last like a ship's captain.” It was this fighting and heroic spirit and the miner's and their
family's and an entire nation's strong faith in the power of God that kept them
alive and emerge out of the depths of the earth to experience a kind of Easter.
More than a billion people around the world were keeping vigil and praying for
them. Pope Benedict hung a flag which was signed by all 33 of them in his
apartment and prayed for them every day until the final moment of their rescue.
As the capsule went down to lift the first man, President Pinera looked down
and made the sign of the cross. And he asked for all churches in Chile to ring
their bells in celebration when the first miner emerged.  One of them, Mr Mario Sepulveda, at his
liberation, declared to the world: “I was with God and I was with the devil,
they fought me but God won. He took me by my best hand, the hand of God and I
held on to him. I never thought for one minute that God wouldn't get me out of
there.” This is the story of the triumph of God, triumph of life and triumph of

About The Author

Fr. Joe Eruppakkatt SSP

Fr. Joe Eruppakkatt SSP is a Catholic priest of the Society of St Paul. He has been engaged in media activities for several years as General Editor of ST PAULS Mumbai. He believes in God's gift of beauty and goodness in every human being, in nature and in every religious tradition, and shares his views and opinions with others.