November 23rd, 2010
05:33 PM ET

Behind the Scenes with the Chilean Miners: "The Rescue"

Editor's Note: Watch Anderson Cooper's visit with the Chilean miners in a "CNN: Heroes" exclusive. See more of the interview tonight on AC360° at 10pm ET. "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," airs Thanksgiving night, 8 ET/5 PT.

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

There were 10 finalists in Los Angeles this past weekend for the CNN Hero of Year. There were also 38 other incredible people at this year's event, the 33 rescued Chilean miners and 5 of the rescuers who brought them to safety.

Early Saturday morning Anderson sat down with 5 of the miners and 2 of the rescuers. I produced that interview.

We took over the 2nd floor lobby at the Shrine Auditorium. The miners showed up in good spirits having enjoyed some of the sights in the Los Angeles area over the past few days, including the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Universal Studios.

As they sat down, I could tell a couple of the men were a little nervous. While some of the men, particularly Mario Supelveda, the 2nd miner to be rescued out of the mine, enjoy the massive media attention they’ve been getting, the majority of the men would prefer to get back to the life they knew before they were trapped in the San Jose mine for 69 days.

They started to get emotional as the men talked with Anderson, recounting what it was like to be trapped in the mine and how each of them reacted when they knew there was no way out. They talked about the importance of staying together and staying united while facing the reality they may not be found.

For many days they heard nothing but silence. I couldn’t help but think how I would react in that situation. What would I do if I were in such a dire situation, trapped with many of my colleagues in what could be my tomb? How would I get along with everyone? Who would be in charge? Who would listen? Just because a certain person is my boss at work, would I also let them take charge with my very survival at stake?

The miners spoke of wanting to change their lives, wanting to correct their wrongs in life. The men struggled with their emotions, shedding tears as they told us of their darkest moments.

The mood changed dramatically when the conversation turned to once they knew they’d be rescued. The described the moment when they saw Manuel Gonzales, the first rescuer, enter the mine through the capsule. They laughed and smiled as the rescuers spoke of their initial impressions of them men when they came down.

The miners say emphatically their heroes are the brave men who journeyed down the hole in a capsule to make sure the men all reached the top alive. They risked their lives taking on a mission with so many unknowns, anything could have happened, yet all were up for it.

I’ve heard and read many comments about whether the miners are heroes, just for getting trapped in a mine. After meeting all of the men and spending so much time with them, I have to say, they are alive today because of each other. They relied on each other to survive, to live a life that many of us could not. When some would break down, others would be there to pick them up. They rationed food when they felt a hunger many of us have never felt. Through all of this, as a unit, they never lost hope they would live and they all reached the top alive. To me, that is heroic.

Filed under: 360° Radar • CNN Heroes • Ismael Estrada
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