Chilean miners rescued, but were they saved?

Bob Simon reports on the difficult psychological recovery the rescued miners face

August 22, 2011 marks the one-year anniversary of a modern miracle. Seventeen days after having been trapped by a mine collapse and feared dead, 33 miners in Chile were discovered alive.

Weeks later the world watched, mesmerized, as one-by-one, the miners stepped from darkness into light, in what may have been the greatest rescue operation since Noah's Ark. At the time they were lionized, living proof that in this software century courage and endurance have not disappeared.

The miners are back home now in Copiapó, a mining town planted in the driest desert in the world. Last winter, Bob Simon flew there to see how they were doing and to find out what really went on those 69 days under the Earth.

Before the rescue, the 33 made a pact of silence. Nonetheless, as Simon first reported in February, several opened up and talked about things they had been keeping to themselves; including how they were coping with being back above ground.

PICTURES: Chile, Return to the Mine

Last year, the area around the San Jose Mine was the stage for one of the most compelling dramas of our time. There's not the slightest trace of that now - not even an empty Coke can.

The miners were five hours into the day shift when their world collapsed. Workers on the surface said it sounded like a volcano exploding. It was a shock, they said, but not a surprise. The San Jose Mine had one of the worst safety records in the region.

The first rescue team didn't get very far, as the underground road was blocked by a boulder twice the weight of the Empire State Building. Were the 33 still alive? The odds were put at two percent.

Half a mile underground, Victor Zamora was repairing the roof of the mine when the force of the collapse plastered him against a wall. He stumbled to the shelter where food was meant to be stored for just such an emergency. There was enough for a couple of picnics.

Asked how he and the others reacted to it, Zamora told "60 Minutes" correspondent Bob Simon, "We were so mad. There was almost nothing there. We couldn't believe that we were supposed to survive with so little. We were treated even worse than animals. It was shocking."

Three days after the collapse the rescue teams started sending probes down. Trouble was, they had no idea where the miners were. All they had were sketches which were outdated and inaccurate.

But they kept on drilling, day and night. The noise was deafening. The miners would hear the probes come close and then stop. It drove them crazy.

But once, mechanic Alex Vega thought he heard salvation. "I'd say the probe went by no more than two meters from our shelter," he remembered. "It went by real close."

"Do you remember what you felt when you realized that the probe was not going to come where you were?" Simon asked.

"Yes, I lost hope. I was desperate," Vega said.

Produced by Michael H. Gavshon and Drew Magratten.

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