In August 2010, Edison Pena was working in the San Jose copper mine in the Atacama desert, northern Chile, when tons of rock came crashing down and blocked his only route out. Pena was one of 33 miners trapped half a mile underground, with no way of knowing if anyone was coming to save them. As the days and months rumbled on, the remarkable story of the Chilean miners would captivate the world.
Edison Pena has shared his story in full for the first time in Trapped: The Chile Miners, the fifth episode of StoryCast ’21, a Sky News podcast series telling 21 extraordinary personal stories from some of the biggest news events of the century.
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Edison Pena was working half a mile underground when part of the San Jose copper mine in Chile collapsed.
As tons of rock came tumbling down from the roof of the mine, Pena made a run for it but was sure there was no way he could survive.
When all the rock had settled the 34-year-old felt fortunate not to be injured – but in reality his problems were only just beginning.
Pena was one of 33 Chilean miners whose route out of the mine had been blocked off by a seemingly impenetrable wall of rock.
Remembering the August 2010 disaster, Pena tells Trapped: The Chile Miners: “We were just doing some job (sic), then suddenly huge amounts of rocks, like a really huge amounts of rock started coming down… we tried to run, we said that’s about it, we’re dead.
“It’s impossible to get out, there’s no way to get out… not even a spider can get in.”
Pena was an electrician by trade who had travelled to the San Jose mine to build a better life for himself.
But as he has stared up at the wall of rock, he feared he would never breathe fresh air or even see daylight ever again.
Pena and the other 32 miners had no way of knowing if anyone was coming for them.
He continued: “We were scared, because most of the time we thought we were going to die… it was darkness, there was no light.”
Then, after more than 17 days underground, a drill broke through into their underground chamber.
The rescue effort had become an international news story and nobody was sure if the miners would ever been found alive. But now, after the rock had finally been penetrated – strains of the Chilean national anthem could be heard being sung from the depths below.
The breakthrough meant food, medicine and rehydration tablets could be sent down to the trapped miners.
Pena, a keen marathon runner, would spend his time running up and down the 2km tunnel to keep fit as he awaited rescue.
The Chilean miner was also an Elvis impersonator – and would sing the King of Rock and Roll’s songs to keep the other miners entertained.
He would even throw in a couple of Elvis’s iconic dance moves.
But as Pena tried to raise the spirits of his fellow miners, the rescue team would spend weeks trying to work out how to bring them back to the surface.
The mine was so old that rescuers feared they could cause further collapses by drilling into the rock.
Everyone knew just one wrong move could be catastrophic.
Sky correspondent Jonathan Samuels arrived at the mine on 6 October 2010 and was greeted by the sounds of drills and generators, and the sight of hundreds of tents and campervans.
Jonathan said: “I saw some kids running around a camp, and their dads were down there, and remember a lot of these kids were young, they had young families… and I remember looking at the kids thinking, I hope your dad comes out.”
As Pena approached 70 days underground, he felt optimistic he would make it of the mine alive – but the question was, how?
Now, Edison Pena and Jonathan Samuels have come together to relive the story in the latest episode of StoryCast ’21.
You can listen to Trapped: The Chile Miners here.
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