Washington — U.S. and Chilean leaders are praising international cooperation in the successful rescue of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped in a collapsed mine for 69 days as an exhibition in Washington honors the global effort.
The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History hosted a panel discussion in Washington February 23 on the U.S. role in the rescue.
“The level of reaction and the level of participation of the American people was amazing — it was massive, it was innovative, it was constructive, it was a tremendous feeling,” said Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of Chile Roberto Matus.
Matus praised both U.S. government and private-sector leaders for their efforts in the October 2010 rescue. Michael Duncan, former deputy chief medical officer at NASA's Johnson Space Center, hailed Chilean leaders as heroes for successfully coordinating international efforts.
“I always want us to remember that it was the Chileans who brought all these teams together; they really deserve all the credit for the successful rescue,” Duncan said. “Each of us played a part and we were happy to be there, happy to represent our country and happy to participate in such a successful rescue, but I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that it was really our Chilean colleagues who put all this together.”
He said the Chileans contacted NASA to ask for help in caring for miners’ psychological and physical health while they were below the ground, as well as in meeting their nutritional needs. NASA sent to the mine site two physicians, one psychologist and one engineer, who offered design suggestions for the rescue capsule that was ultimately built by Chilean Navy engineers.
Duncan, who was part of the NASA team at the mine site, said the U.S. teams had an “instant camaraderie” with their international counterparts, which “was very valuable and helped us get our message across and have a give-and-take conversation.”
Richard Soppe, senior drilling application engineer for Center Rock Inc., the Pennsylvania company that created the drill head that ultimately pierced through 700 meters of solid rock to reach the miners, also commended the cooperation and the “colossal effort” of everyone involved in the rescue operation.
He said the real heroes in the situation were the miners “for staying alive, for staying organized, for rationing their food and their water — I have no idea how they were able to do it.”
Ed Breiner, president of Schramm Inc., the Pennsylvania company that created the drill for the shaft that brought the miners to the surface, said leadership played a significant role in the rescue.
“There was leadership below the ground — people of character and faith sustaining themselves … not knowing what tomorrow would hold,” he said. “Above ground, I think it was the exchange of ideas, trade, collaboration and advanced technology that made it happen.”
Nicolás Bär, the Chilean Embassy’s cultural attaché in Washington, commended the international support provided after experts’ original estimates gave the miners a less than 2 percent chance of survival. He said the reason for such widespread cooperation “all comes down to one basic concept: the importance of an individual life.”
The panel discussion was part of a series of leadership programs in conjunction with the National Museum of Natural History’s special exhibition, Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine, which opened August 2011 and will run through September 2012.