Chilean Miners Rescued, But Were They Saved?

Bob Simon Reports On The Difficult Psychological Recovery Rescued Miners Face

It attracted more than a billion viewers worldwide - one of the most watched television events ever: people were mesmerized as the 33 Chilean miners stepped from darkness into light. It might have been the greatest rescue operation since Noah's Ark. And the miners? They were lionized, living proof that in this software century courage and endurance have not disappeared.

They're back home now in Copiapó, a mining town planted in the driest desert in the world. "60 Minutes" traveled to Chile to check out how they're doing and to find out what was really going on those 69 days half a mile under the Earth.

Before the rescue, the 33 made a pact of silence. Nonetheless, several opened up to us and talked about things they had been keeping to themselves. As you will find out, much of their story hasn't been told.

Segment: Los 33
Extra: President Believed Miners Were Alive
Extra: Keeping Routines While Trapped
Extra: The Red Paint Moment
Extra: Is Mario Ok?
Pictures: Chile, Return to the Mine

Four months ago, 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 All they had were sketches which were outdated and inaccurate.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.

And so were the families who pitched tents outside the mine. They called it "Camp Hope." And some never lost it, even though for 16 days, there was no sign of life. What the families didn't know - and what has not been reported until now - is just how close their men came to doing themselves in.

"I said to a friend, 'Well, if we're gonna continue suffering, it would be better for us to all go to the shelter, start an engine and with the carbon monoxide, just let ourselves go,'" Zamora remembered.

Asked if he was the only one who felt that way, or if others also thought of it, Zamora said, "I think all of us."

"All of you were thinking about committing suicide?" Simon asked.

"At that moment, it wasn't really committing suicide. It was to not continue suffering. We were going to die anyway," Zamora replied.