World Riveted by Chile Miner Rescue Drama

A Filipino appliances salesman in Manila, Philippines watches the live broadcast of the rescue of Chilean miner Florencio Avalos who was trapped with 32 other miners for 69 days underground at San Jose copper and gold mine in Copiapo, Chile, Wednesday Oct. 13, 2010. AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

Plane crashes, terror threats, oil spills, toxic leaks. The TV news diet is often dire, rarely joyous. And then there were the pictures Wednesday of brave, dignified miners who had been trapped beneath the ground for more than two months being brought to the surface, to breathe fresh air and to hug their loved ones.

Communications technology — including live video from within the mine — turned the entire world into a global village hoping for the safe release of men they did not know and would probably never meet. It was as if each of us could see ourselves in their place, wondering how we would cope with the sustained terror and then the sudden emergence into the light.

"It feels like we're all there with them even though we're so far away in London," said Jose Torra, 34, early Wednesday morning as the rescue unfolded. "For once it is a story with a good ending."

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They were the hugs felt round the world. It's a feature of the TV age that intimacy can be transmitted live to hundreds of millions of people simultaneously, creating a shared memory of great moments.

In New York City, Mark and Susan Vannucci, a landscaper and a nurse from Bethpage, New York, watched the rescue on a TV at a restaurant in Times Square.

"It's a heartwarming story. It's family values, it's leadership, it's everything that we should have here," Mark Vannucci said. His wife said: "Instead of those guys in the mine turning on each other, they worked together, they bonded."

"It's a miracle, a wonderful event," said Bernard Carr, a mathematics and astronomy professor chatting with other passengers at London's Liverpool Street train station. He praised the miners' camaraderie but cautioned that the stress the men will face now that they are above ground may be more intense than their ordeal below.

Some marveled at the miners' capacity to cope for so long, and feared they could not have endured the hardship.

"It's pretty amazing to see them stay down there that long and not go crazy," said Tamara Craiu, a 21-year-old student from Singapore who is taking classes in London. "I'd go mad."

The rescue of each miner set off a wave of congratulatory messages on Twitter, where many were already suggesting Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck or Nicholas Cage star in a Hollywood movie on the ordeal.

Some Internet users in Mexico posted bittersweet messages, praising Chile's government but expressing regret that their country could not save the 65 miners who died in 2006 after an explosion in a coal mine.

In Spain, Elias Saguillo, one of some 50 Spanish coal miners who staged a monthlong underground protest in September over unpaid wages and demands for subsidies, said he and his colleagues followed the Chilean ordeal day after day and are now elated over the rescue.

"Mainly we are proud of how the Chilean miners endured. From the first day through to the end, they behaved like true miners," Saguillo, 45, said after finishing his shift at Las Cuevas mine in northern Palencia province, where he and colleagues spent 28 days at a depth of 500 meters (1,650 feet).

Saguillo said the worst part for the Chileans had to be the two weeks they spent right after the mine collapsed, before word from above ground reached them and they did not know if anyone was even looking for them. "Every possible fear must have gone through their heads," Saguillo said.

The riveting rescue images were broadcast live throughout much of the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Africa throughout the night and during the day, drawing round-the-clock coverage from many cable outlets.

State broadcaster China Central Television ran a segment on its evening broadcast, while the official Chinese news agency Xinhua carried an editorial praising the rescue: "For more than two months, the miners, families, citizens and the government all have created a miracle of life. The rescue reflects the shining moment of human nature."

China's avid interest is partly a reflection of its own sensitivity to mining issues. China's mining industry is considered by far the world's deadliest, with more than 2,600 coal miners killed last year by accidents and blasts. Those figures reflect a decrease from previous years as the government moved to improve safety by shutting down many illegal mines.

In Seoul, the miners were a top news item on numerous media outlets, with 24-hour all-news channel YTN closely following the rescue.

The Korea Economic Daily also ran a photo showing Chilean President Sebastian Pinera hugging a rescued miner on its front page with a headline reading: "A 69-day miracle ... trapped Chilean miners pulled out."

Clifford Aron, an American businessman who lives in Poland, said he was deeply moved by the heroism of the miners and the quality of Chile's leaders.

"The obvious contrast is with America," said Aron, a 52-year-old Brooklyn native. "With Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration was completely incompetent and out to lunch on the human tragedy; with the BP oil spill, the Obama approach was to punt over responsibility to BP. The Chileans have shown us what leadership and crisis management is all about. Lives were at stake and the whole machinery of government snapped into action."

He said the miners show stunning resilience.

"This was the most amazing story I had ever seen," he said. "Those miners are the greatest heroes I can think of — for their endurance and solidarity in the most unimaginable conditions. What an inspiration to us all to learn how to get along."

The TV coverage also had special resonance for Todd Russell and Brant Webb, two Australian miners who were trapped by an earthquake more than half than a mile (a kilometer) underground for two weeks in 2006. Both said they were overcome by emotion as they watched from half a world away.

But Russell, 38, warned that the freed miners face a harsh adjustment. He has suffered from insomnia and nightmares since his rescue and has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, which he blames for the collapse of his marriage.

"They've got a long way to go," he told Australia's Nine Network television. "They're only in the early stages of their release."

The Chamber of Mines of South Africa, which has the deepest mines in the world, sent a message of congratulations to their counterparts in Chile.

"We have been encouraged by the ingenuity of those responsible for the rescue operation," said acting CEO Peter Bunkell, who said serious technical challenges had to be overcome to get the men out alive.

In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle rejoiced.

"What's happening here is a little modern miracle," he said on Germany's ARD television. "I would like to express my respect for the Chilean government and also the Chilean people, who are now celebrating in joy but of course held out for weeks, didn't give up on anyone and worked to protect and save every life."
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