Celebrating the Chilean rescue — a rare happy ending

Miraculously, 33 miners have emerged from the San Jose gold-copper mine in Chile, all alive and looking darn good given the fact that they’ve spent more than two months trapped a half mile underground. Americans love a good rescue story, and we’ve been riveted by this one.
But the rescue could have the unfortunate effect, in this country, of deepening a misplaced faith in technology to cure any ill and solve any problem. During the disastrous Deepwater Horizon mess, Americans seemed to think that the U.S. military had technology that could plug the well overnight. No such technology exists.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, the successful Chilean rescue was a mix of science and luck:

The most striking thing about Wednesday’s rescue of the trapped miners, after 70 days underground, was how easy it looked. The capsule that gave each man a trip to freedom seemed more like an off-kilter elevator than a part of history’s most audacious mining rescue.
Nothing about the San Jose rescue was easy, of course. Every aspect of the mission was planned and patiently managed, from initial efforts to locate survivors of the Aug. 5 cave-in to NASA’s input on the rescue capsule that brought them home. Even so, as the 33th man appeared—followed by the successful extraction of the six underground rescue workers—Chileans acknowledged the proceedings were blessed with an element of luck.

“It was 75% engineering and 25% a miracle,” said topographer Macarena Valdes.

Ms. Valdes was speaking of her own role in the rescue, as she augmented science with a touch of gut instinct to help guide rescuers’ probe drills into the rock, in hopes of finding survivors, in the days after the miners’ disappearance.

In this country, mining remains a dirty and dangerous business in which the risks are compounded by mine owners who simply don’t want to spend the extra money to make conditions safer. Many of them are willing to spend millions on political campaigns, however, to elect politicians who will allow them to run unsafe mines. The WaPo’s Dana Milbank wrote about Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey, in July:

If Don Blankenship had any sense of shame, he’d crawl into a mine and hide.

As CEO of Massey Energy, he has presided over a coal company that had thousands of violations in recent years, leading up to the April explosion that killed 29 of his miners. The company now faces a federal criminal investigation into what the government has called negligent and reckless practices.

But Blankenship must have no sense of shame, because he visited the National Press Club last week to complain about “knee-jerk political reactions” to mine deaths and to demand that the Obama administration lighten regulations on his dirty and dangerous company. “We need to let businesses function as businesses,” an indignant Blankenship proclaimed. “Corporate business is what built America, in my opinion, and we need to let it thrive by, in a sense, leaving it alone.”

The CEO was asked what he could have done to prevent the deadly explosion. “I probably should’ve sued MSHA” — that’s the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration — “rather than waiting” until now, he said. In the future, he added, “you’ll see not only coal companies but many companies resist the efforts of EPA and others that are impeding their ability to pursue their careers, or their happiness.”

The San Jose mine also had a poor safety record.

Along with its unhealthy balance sheet, the company has a pretty poor safety record. In 2007, executives were charged with involuntary manslaughter following the death of a miner, but settled with his family. The San Jose mine was closed, but it reopened in 2008 despite failing to comply with safety standards, according to Senator Baldo Prokurica, a member of the Senate mining committee.

Things may be about to change. The new Chilean president, Sebastian Pinera, is enjoying high ratings for his handling of the disaster so far. He has fired regulators and set up a commission to investigate the accident. At least 18 mines have been closed for safety violations. This is the right thing to do, but it will no doubt cause hardship for those miners thrown out of work. While the tab for the Deepwater Horizon spill will be picked up by BP, the cost of the San Jose rescue and any industry clean-up will be have to be met by the Chilean people.

I have no idea what the investigation will uncover. The San Jose disaster is unusual partly because of the number of people who survived. In 2008, the year the mine reopened, 43 Chilean miners died in accidents, yet there are only 18 inspectors for the country’s hundreds of mines.

Mining is a notoriously corrupt business. In many countries, backhanders are routinely proffered in exchange for mineral rights – and a blind eye turned to safety standards. And even when the political will seems to be there, darker forces often win out in the end.

As long as the Blankenships of the world get their way, there will be far more tragic deaths in mines than miraculous rescues.

314 comments Add your comment

Cynthia Is Sexy!!

October 14th, 2010
7:11 am

The funniest part, I guess if there is one, was when the news correspondent stated “and here we see miner number so & so. His wife wasnt there to greet but his Mistress was.”

LOL!

Cynthia Is Sexy!!

October 14th, 2010
7:20 am

1ST!!

Its 7:20 in the a.m. and Cynthia is still sexy…!

granny godzilla

October 14th, 2010
7:31 am

“Before we get to what we’re here to talk about — which is education — I just want to say a quick word about what so far appears to be a successful rescue of the trapped Chilean miners.

This is obviously something that’s captivated the world’s attention and this rescue is a tribute not only to the determination of the rescue workers and the Chilean government, but also the unity and resolve of the Chilean people who have inspired the world. And I want to express the hopes of the American people that the miners who are still trapped underground will be returned home safely as soon as possible.

Let me also commend so many people of goodwill, not only in Chile, but also from the United States and around the world, who are lending a hand in this rescue effort — from the NASA team that helped design the escape vehicle, to American companies that manufactured and delivered parts of the rescue drill, to the American engineer who flew in from Afghanistan to operate the drill.

Last night, the whole world watched the scene at Camp Esperanza as the first miner was lifted out from under more than 2,000 feet of rock and then embraced by his young son and family. And the tears they shed — after so much time apart — expressed not only their own relief, not only their own joy, but the joy of people everywhere. So it was a thrilling moment and we’re hopeful that those celebrations duplicate themselves throughout the rest of today.”

Barack Obama
President of The United States of America

I’m with him.

Cynthia Is Sexy!!

October 14th, 2010
7:41 am

Thanks granny and thanks to Obama for the rehashing of the old hash and educating us Amerkuns who are without radio, tv and are unable to interpret much of anything. For obama shines as a beacon for all who feel they need one.

Pluto

October 14th, 2010
7:43 am

Imagine if our president conducted himself along the same lines as the Chilean president during all the “crisis” we have endured the past two years. Instead of meddling in areas beyond his expertise, let those professionals trained be equipped to get the job done. Yes there is a lesson here; we only hope it was learned.

Peadawg

October 14th, 2010
7:50 am

No column on the Regents banning illegals from our public colleges? Wow….I’m actually kinda shocked.

Good point, Pluto.

Cynthia Is Sexy!!

October 14th, 2010
7:51 am

Dawg,

Maureen has a column under her blog page.

granny godzilla

October 14th, 2010
7:53 am

Every party has a pooper and this one will have a bunch….

Peadawg

October 14th, 2010
7:54 am

“Maureen has a column under her blog page.”

Ya I saw it yesterday. She sounded as crazy as I expect Cynthia to sound on the subject.

kayaker 71

October 14th, 2010
8:07 am

CT,

Nice column until you got to Blankenship. Why not just celebrate the rescue and let the rest of it go for today.

Skipper

October 14th, 2010
8:09 am

Focus people, just for today celebrate. You can go back to hating tomorrow.

JKL2

October 14th, 2010
8:16 am

I think we should just ban all mining. Besides being dangerous, it’s just spooky down there.

I hope the lesson learned for our government wasn’t “stick the tax payer with the bill”.

granny godzilla

October 14th, 2010
8:19 am

red

October 14th, 2010
8:21 am

You used to be able to get a happy ending at the Mall of Georgia until the evil govt. stopped free enterprise….

resno2

October 14th, 2010
8:22 am

nice to see that this can still somehow be about obama

red

October 14th, 2010
8:26 am

Rejoice those dastardly illegals can’t get edumacated in our schools, praise be to the southern christian god almighty, thru him all bigotry and good clean hatred for others is possible….

James

October 14th, 2010
8:26 am

What a story.

In other news the esteemed Larry King allowed Michael Moore the platform to bash the US. Rather interesting that obesity is inarguably a leading cause of health risk which is a major drain on the economy last I checked. Michael Moore is inarguably obese. Larry King doesn’t have the gumption to point this out? That is what is wrong with journalism.

James

October 14th, 2010
8:28 am

Granny- it is without debate that the President is very good at reading nicely worded speeches prepared on his behalf.

granny godzilla

October 14th, 2010
8:37 am

James

wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the last President could have had the same ability?

there is no debate that he really was an embarrassment to the Nation as a public speaker….

what with all the OB/GYN’s practicing their love and all….

James

Can you find a space in your heart for the miners?
perhaps a wee bit of joy for your fellow human beings?

can ya’, huh?

JW

October 14th, 2010
8:40 am

Amen, kayaker 71 @8:07. Let’s celbrate the rescue; we can go bash evil, greedy corporations another day. Mining is an inherently dangerous business, even when all the safety precautions are followed. That fact that all 33 miners were successfully brought to the surface from half a mile down after over months is cause for a major celebration.

Booger Presley

October 14th, 2010
8:40 am

Seems illegal should mean illegal yet the molly coddlers and bleeding hearts promote chaos and anything goes mentality. No wonder Obama won the election.

Joe

October 14th, 2010
8:44 am

That was wonderful for those people and that country. The leadership the President showed was astonishing staying there the whole time until all were pulled to safety. Maybe Obama can take a cue from this guy in how a leader is supposed to act in crucial situations….

[...] are safe in what turned out to be an amazing, gripping rescue that played out on TV. Story. Photos. AJC’s Cynthia Tucker chimes in. >> Resident attacked after complaining about Adair Park prostitution. Story. >> Police in North [...]

ctucker

October 14th, 2010
8:50 am

Pluto@7:43, What was the lesson? “meddling in areas beyond his expertise?” The Chilean president has cracked down on mining operations.

One Nation Under educated

October 14th, 2010
9:02 am

“There was a Teabaggapublican there who noted that one of the miners had not paid his $75 extraction fee, so they should leave him down there.

He was beaten senseless and deported out of the civilized country to a banana republic, where he was elected U.S. senator (R).”

Keep up the good fight!

October 14th, 2010
9:05 am

The lesson learned is simple. “We the crazy cons and wingnuts cannot discuss any matter without finding Obama to blame or at fault. Nor can we ever find fault in big business. We believe the experts at BP and in West Virginia should fix their booboos without regulations and the world will be a happy place. Now when can we cut minimum wage and force children to work like the good old days?”

barking frog

October 14th, 2010
9:05 am

Yes we should join with the mine owners in celebrating the
rescue without remembering why it was necessary.

godless heathen

October 14th, 2010
9:11 am

Safety is good. Noone wants to be responsible for workers being injured, I’m sure not even the evil Mr. Blankenship. But those that are familiar with MSHA and OSHA regulations will tell you that these programs lose their effectiveness when they are bogged down addressing trivial matters. MSHA and OSHA inspectors are frequently on little power trips and some get a kick out of writing up every trivial thing as a violation. As with almost all big government programs, common sense isn’t very common and this creates an adversarial relationship between owner / operators and the regulators.

We probably need more OSHA and MSHA inspectors. They rarely are seen until something tragic happens and then they are all over the place fining folks.

Ever notice that every time their is a mine or construction disaster, the media reports “The operator had over ## safety violations in the past ## years.” I don’t put a lot of stock in those reports, because many of the violations are over trivial matters. I’d be willing to bet that an OSHA inspector could visit Cynthia Tucker’s desk and write her up for a few safety violations. IMHO, time loss accidents are a better indicator of what kind of ship the owner/operator is running.

resno2

October 14th, 2010
9:14 am

“We probably need more OSHA and MSHA inspectors.”

It could be a new government jobs program!!!!

Road Scholar

October 14th, 2010
9:15 am

Since Chile’s government ran the rescue, who paid for it?

Pluto

October 14th, 2010
9:15 am

Perhaps you missed the coverage of the rescue. I thought I saw a president that was grateful and prideful of what had transpired during the resolution of this situation. The men exited the mine, gave thanks to God, hugged love ones and wrapped themselves in the Chilean flag. Additonally, I think el presidente recognizes the importance of mining to Chile’s economy. Contrast this to how our leader handled himself during various situations; threatening organizations with overwhelming bureaucratic intervention, essentially extorting from the same players and seemingly hell bent on creating division.

resno2

October 14th, 2010
9:17 am

Here it comes, Pluto… look out!

You Asked

October 14th, 2010
9:19 am

“But the rescue could have the unfortunate effect, in this country, of deepening a misplaced faith in government to cure any ill and solve any problem.”

Fixed it for ya!

Libertarian

October 14th, 2010
9:19 am

Just so we’re fair, BOTH parties take money from the mining industry.

nelson

October 14th, 2010
9:19 am

You are right, people love a happy ending. I see the happiest ending of all, clean energy will be the energy provider in the decades to come. Coal will be history. CO2 emissions that coal burning has produced by the millions of metric tons will be over. One wind turbine [the Nacelle] can provide all the energy needs for 750,000 homes. It is rather large, several hundred meters high with a foot print of 100 acres. It is already in the works to have an offshore line of wind turbines along the east coast that will provide the energy of 6 nuclear generators. It is a wonderful future, wind energy and the people that will be enjoying the benefits. With that being said, there is plenty of opposition from the wealthy coast dwellers that see turbines spoiling their viewshed. However when the alternative is considered, of a polluted atmosphere where the inhabitants cannot breathe, the opposition will be thwarted.

Pablo

October 14th, 2010
9:19 am

It is a great thing that the Chilean miners were rescued safe and sound. This is possibly the good news story of the year. I am happy for them, for their families, and for the people of Chile; who have had a fairly rough year, and certainly deserve a celebration.

You Asked

October 14th, 2010
9:25 am

Nelson- you do know that this was a gold and copper mine? Not that it changes your point.

Someguy

October 14th, 2010
9:31 am

Kudos to the Chilean gov’t! A gov’t that promises something, sets an expectation and then beats every timeline and expectation it stated. Unheard of and exceptional! I think I might make a trip to Chile and check it out it! If Obama wins a second term I might move there!

retired early

October 14th, 2010
9:32 am

Every Republican ad reads “less regulation and lower taxes on corporations”. Who is left to pay the taxes? We the people. Who loses a lot their 401 investments or gets killed on the job with lax safety regulations, We the people. Who wins… corporations. Who loses… We the people.
Now, someone please explain to me how all these bloggers preaching this same ideology, could possibly have anything to gain by it. Don’t say “job creation”. The W years only helped the top 2%.We had the ist decade of -0- job growth.
Those are the cold hard facts. If you chose to ignore them and make the same mistake of voting against YOUR-OWN-BEST-INTEREST, there is only one explanation. You have been brainwashed.

The Last Boy Scout

October 14th, 2010
9:33 am

This just in from the Tea Party and Fox news; The Tea Party finds the fact that the Chilean government involved in the rescue of the trapped miners a travesty. “Government is the problem not the fact that the miners were hundreds of feet underground” says Tea Party Activist Sara Palin. If the government had let those men die (they knew the risk) this poor company could have saved a great deal of money and put another 33 people back to work. Fox news has placed the blame for this tragedy at the feet of the Obama Administration and Harry Reid. They also think Nancy Pelosi is a big ,fat ,dumb ,dumb head. ;0)

Nothing Is Free

October 14th, 2010
9:39 am

Thew Chilian President was a hero. Why did Obama look like such a zero, during the oil leak?

Could it be that the Chilean President knew how to be engaged and not arrogant and detached?

Obama is a joke. So far, he hasn’t done anything right and I read yesterday that he says that the republicans will have to learn to work with him. Does he have any grasp on reality.

This election is done.

Hopefully, Obama will be gone in 2012.

Fang1944

October 14th, 2010
9:40 am

At least that one miner is still in shape to enjoy his wife and mistress–unless the wife gives him what for.

Peadawg

October 14th, 2010
9:40 am

“Every Republican ad reads “less regulation and lower taxes on corporations”.”

The problem with raising taxes on corporations is they put the costs on we the people in the form of higher fees, etc. So it’s double-edged sword. Either way, the corporations win and we the people lose. Sucks, huh?

Nothing Is Free

October 14th, 2010
9:41 am

The Last Boy Scout

What a pathetic pile of crap.

But rant on. Making up crap like that is all you have.

ken R

October 14th, 2010
9:42 am

Cynthia is beautiful, 7:20 post, “Cynthis is beautiful” you must have really tied one on last night.

Granny Godzilla, on Education, if we pass it we will find out what’s in it.

Booger Presley

October 14th, 2010
9:43 am

Reps work with Obama…not gonna happen. The Reps will win to stop obama and his destructive agenda.

He is really out to lunch.

paleo-neo-Carlinist

October 14th, 2010
9:44 am

great story, for the miners and their families, which is also the end of the story as far as I am concerned. excuse my cynicism, but why direct the rant at Don Blankenship and the US mining industry alone? the idea that mine owners would eschew the safety of their employees in favor of backing politicians who in turn enact or redact legislation to which makes mines less safe, but more profitable is not exclusive to mining. in fact, it is the de facto business model of the Federal Government. to wit; the Federal Government owns the mine, and politicians is (sic) Don Blankenship.

Nothing Is Free

October 14th, 2010
9:44 am

retired early

The Labor Department says initial claims for unemployment aid rose by 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 462,000. It was only the second rise in two months.

Face the facts about what this administration has done. Your inane ranting just looks silly.

ken R

October 14th, 2010
9:46 am

The last Boy Scout, Granny is correct when she says every party has a POOPER, man did you ever.

granny godzilla

October 14th, 2010
9:51 am

Nothing is Free

except of course your opinion. And it’s a bit pricey at that.

“So far, he hasn’t done anything right”

That’s a huge lie.

Just an “inane rant”.

But you’ll spend the better part of today in just the same mode.

Rant Rinse Repeat