Excerpt from “The 33” by Jonathan Franklin ~~Rescued~~

picture-The33-FranklinFor one miner, Florencio Ávalos, freedom was just minutes away.
Ávalos was ready. He had slipped into the tailored green jumpsuit with his name stitched across the chest. A pair of Oakley sunglasses protected his eyes. On his right wrist a monitor measured his pulse and sent wireless updates to the rescue team on the surface. His left index finger was inserted into a device that measured oxygen levels in his blood. Tightly wrapped around his chest, a sophisticated electronic monitor transmitted another half dozen vital signs to the technicians and doctors above ground.
The other miners gathered around to watch, photograph and make home videos of the scene. Despite their nervousness, a strange calm filled the chamber. Like professional athletes in a locker room before a big game, the men joked and paced but their confidence was evident. The men momentarily forgot the terror of the collapse and the lingering sensation that death had been stalking them. For now, the scene was more like a party as cumbia music blared from farther down the mine. White balloons bounced around the floor as the men ambled nervously – naked except for pairs of clean white pants.
The prospect of escape filled them with a dose of adrenalin. The men now felt as if they were actually going to win their ten-week battle with the mountain. Along the length of the dark tunnels, the miners made last-minute explorations, the bright beams from their flashlights dancing in the distance. The clanking of carabiners was a reminder that rescue workers from Codelco, GOPE and the Chilean Navy had arrived.
González placed a white plastic credential – like those used backstage at rock concerts – over the neck of Ávalos. The rescue was filled with formality, orders and procedures. Every detail has been rehearsed for weeks. Yet the mountain could still throw a monkey wrench into protocol. Even the deepest calm at 700 metres was a superficial escape from the claustrophobic reality.
At 11:53 PM Ávalos stepped into the capsule, and the rescue workers latched the door shut. The miners all listened impatiently to the chatter between Otto, the Austrian winch operator, the communications centre, and Pedro Cortés, below. Meanwhile Ávalos nervously anticipated the imminent family reunion: the two sons who had not seen their father for two months; the wife who had been writing letters and watching videos but had not touched or looked into the eyes of her husband. Ávalos had left for work on a cold winter morning; now it was spring.
As the capsule slid upward, Ávalos’s compañeros screamed, cheered and whistled. Then, instantly, he was alone. For fifteen minutes, Ávalos peered through a metal mesh that sliced the world into diamond-shaped viewing holes. A light inside the capsule illuminated the smooth, wet rock walls. The spring-loaded metal wheels clanked as they rolled along the rocky path. The capsule dipped and bobbed as it followed the uneven tunnel and slowly brought Ávalos towards freedom.
When he was just 20 metres from the surface, Ávalos could see the first signs of light and hear the first sounds of life. Rescue workers were now screaming down, asking if he was OK. Then suddenly he was in the light: a hero to the waiting world, a father reunited with his crying sons and a huge boost in the polls to President Piñera, who waited in the front row.
As Florencio was pulled from the capsule, his nine-year-old son, Byron, broke down in tears. Rescue workers jumped and celebrated. The cameras flashed on a wrenching scene – for a moment the nine-year-old boy was alone, awash in emotions. First Lady Cecilia Morel, health minister Mañalich and Rene Aguilar, the second in command of the rescue operation, swept in to calm the child. Then true comfort arrived – a hug from his father.
Ministers, hard-hat rescue workers, doctors and journalists all openly wept at the beauty of the scene. Then men had defined themselves from that first note as Los 33 and had been adopted by the world as a beloved collective, now famed for their ability to work as a team. In a world so often defined by bloody acts and individual egos, Los 33 remained united while entombed, a brotherhood of working-class heroes. Teamwork had kept them alive, and now they would all be rescued together.
Florencio hugged first his family, then President Piñera, then the rescue workers. Next he was placed on a stretcher and wheeled into the field hospital. The entire hospital staff erupted in applause. They assumed Ávalos was healthy – he had been chosen to journey first based on his mental and physical strength – but nonetheless he was given glucose and a nurse took his blood pressure. As he lay in the bed, Florencio thought about his younger brother Renán, still trapped below.

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1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Non-Fiction

One response to “Excerpt from “The 33” by Jonathan Franklin ~~Rescued~~

  1. Jonathan Franklin has written the story of the Copiapó mining accident, where 33 men were trapped underground for 69 days, before finally being rescued on 13 October 2010.

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