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Mine about to give 'birth' to 33 trapped Chileans

A woman prays near the mining encampment at Copiapo, Chile, October 9, 2010.


As the world's media gathered on the parched hills over Chile's San Jose mine to tell the story of 33 men awaiting rescue from deep below, those men were writing their own story.

More than 700 metres beneath the surface, the miners have begun drafting a book detailing an experience so gripping that it has brought 1,200 reporters and camera operators from 300 media organizations in 40 nations to report the latest details.

The miners' tale began as a logbook, started soon after the Aug. 5 underground collapse that left them stranded and uncertain of rescue. They documented their every move, meal and dispute in a collaborative effort initially aimed at telling families how they died. Now it will contain the extraordinary details of their survival.

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Those details, and the men who can expect to gain both celebrity and wealth by telling them, are less than a day away from coming to the surface. Rescue crews finished reinforcing an escape shaft with a 56-metre protective steel sleeve, and conducted the tests of the escape capsule designed to evacuate the men, which they lowered nearly to the bottom before raising it back to surface without incident.

By 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, officials say the miners will begin to rise from the depths.

"The mine is like a pregnant woman. Any moment, she's going to give birth to the 33 miners." said Berta Morales, whose brother-in-law, Mario Gomez, is the oldest trapped miner. "It's a new life for them."

No longer will they be among the anonymous mineros that have for centuries pioneered roads, dug holes and scrabbled together a livelihood from the copper and gold hidden beneath the surface of this hostile landscape.

"They will go from being unknown to famous," Ms. Morales said.

Several weeks ago, the men received a video visit from four survivors of the Andean plane crash memorialized in the book and movie Alive, making it clear that his transformation is likely to be lifelong. That crash took place in 1972, and those who survived are still called upon to tell the story.

The families of the trapped miners hope that their own tale of survival will also form the basis of a silver screen epic.

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The broad outlines of the underground narrative have already been drawn around the personalities below. There is Mr. Gomez, who has become a spiritual leader to the group, and Jose Henriquez, who requested that Bibles be sent down for the men. There is Luis Urzua, the foreman, whose leadership has been praised as the reason for their survival. There is Edison Pena, the athlete, who has run several kilometres per day through the hot, dank tunnels. And there is Alex Vega, the young electrician who, in the 17 days before the men were discovered alive, rigged a way to charge the miner's lamps from truck batteries.

Local media have reported that film producers have been sniffing around, but several families said Monday that they had yet to hear from anyone.

That a movie will be made, however, is treated as a foregone conclusion. The only question for Alex Vega's brother, Jonathan, is who will play the role Alex: Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise?

Mr. Vega would prefer Mr. Cruise. "He's short, like my brother," he said.

Families are reticent to discuss what money has already been offered, although the men have been invited all over the world on expenses-paid trips to deliver interviews and make celebrity appearances. Last week, they received six hours of media training by video conference with former journalist Alejandro Pina, who now works with Chile's national health authority.

"We talked about how to how to handle questioning and how to respond if there are questions they don't want to answer," Mr. Pina said. "They responded well, and treated the class very seriously."

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The men are, he said, approaching the situation with humour, something they may need to cope with the onslaught of demands. Although Mr. Vega called on the government to negotiate media contact with the men, officials have said each man will have to answer for himself.

Family members say the men have agreed that their first interview will be conducted as a group. But anticipation for stories from each miner is so great that relatives are overseeing increasingly long lists of requests for interviews and overseas appearances.

Many will, no doubt, say yes, even those naturally inclined to be uncomfortable in the glare of global attention, but drawn by the potential to profit.

"It's his moment of fame," Mr. Vega of his brother. "But Alex is a reserved person. He'll enjoy the money, but not the media attention."


The miners have reportedly signed a legal contract, obliging them to equally partake in profits from their ordeal. Here is just a taste of what they're being offered.


Offered to each miner by Chilean business tycoon Leonardo Farkas. Several foundations are also collecting donations.


The amount, per person, reportedly being offered by some television channels for exclusive interviews.


An Italian TV station is offering to fly miners to Italy. A Greek mining company has offered all-expenses paid, week-long trips for miners and guests to Greece. Soccer team Real Madrid has invited them to watch a match at its stadium in Spain.


Offers from makers of clothing, beer, mining equipment and sexual enhancement pills.


Free iPods care of Steve Jobs. Signed jerseys from Real Madrid. Lingerie for wives.

Job offers

Numbering in the thousands. If the miners make as much money as they hope, they won't need them.

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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