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Originally published Friday, October 15, 2010 at 2:59 PM

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Chile's miraculous rescue is full of heroes

The rescue at the San Jose Mine in Copiapo, Chile, was an extraordinary blend of talent, courage and answered prayers.

CHILEAN topographer Macarena Valdes, whose calculations guided the rescue drilling, described locating and recovering 33 trapped miners as "75 percent engineering, and 25 percent a miracle."

The exact ratio might be debated, but the courage and stamina of the miners and the tenacity of the rescuers is not a matter of conjecture. Events above and below ground in Copiapo, Chile, riveted the world's attention.

How and why this happens can be a bit of mystery and current-events whimsy. Having 1,300 journalists encamped at the site, with live video feeds circulating through the ether, is no small factor.

Mining is profoundly dangerous work, but we all manage to avoid paying attention for more than a news cycle. Yet the work and hazards touch lives around the world, from Poland to West Virginia, which recently lost 41 miners in two accidents. Coal mines in China claimed 2,600 lives last year, and 65 miners died in Chile four years ago.

Most tragedies glide by, just as the deaths of 43 people killed in a bus-train collision in Ukraine escaped much notice days before the triumphant rescue.

This remote industrial accident followed a different course. The universal nature of the expertise available played a role. The San Jose Mine in Copiapo produces copper and gold. China and Chile, the world's biggest consumer of copper and biggest producer, respectively, signed a broad trade pact in 2006.

The rescue effort was an extraordinary melding of talent and technology. A Chinese heavy-equipment company provided the massive construction crane for the operation. Two firms in Pennsylvania provided specialized drills. A Denver drilling expert was pulled off contract work in Afghanistan.

For all of the engineering and technical capacities on display, the patient courage of the 33 miners who spent 70 days underground is what humbles observers who watched the drama unfold safe and secure above ground.

These men maintained their composure through 17 days without contact or any clue they were known to be alive and devoutly being searched for. They survived on two spoonfuls of tuna, a cup of milk, a few crackers and peach topping — every other day. The New York Times reports they dug three wells for potable water, and used a subterranean waterfall for personal hygiene.

The leadership of shift supervisor Luis Urzua and the personal discipline of the men who endured and shared the confinement and personal anguish is extraordinary.

The rescue at the San Jose Mine in Northern Chile is full of heroes, above and below ground.

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