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Latest update : 2011-10-14

The “Atacama 33”, one year on

Their story gripped the world. Trapped at the bottom of a mine for 69 days, the “Atacama 33” went though a living hell. Their incredible rescue was watched live by over a billion people on television. One year on, now the media frenzy has subsided, what has happened to them? Is the nightmare really over? What are their lives like today?

To reach the San José mine, we must first travel 850 km from Santiago of Chile, along a road in a lunar landscape. Both anxious and excited, Claudio guides us in through the dunes of the Atacama. It is the first time he has made this journey since it came out of the mine a year ago. A truck moving, a rickety fence, some old oil cans are scattered about, as if the occupants have suddenly fled. Sylvain, our sound engineer records crackling and the timid song of a lone bird. In an atmosphere reminiscent of a Serio Leone film, Claudio has flashbacks of the two thousand journalists, the families, the officials, he hears the flashes and applause, he is lost for words. It is a year since the 33 emerged from 700 meters underground, after 69 days, under the world’s media spotlight. But now it's the come down, unemployment and tranquilizers. At the miners hometown of Copiapo, a city of 130 000 inhabitants, the tragedy is not spoken about. Too many headlines, too much jealousy, too much publicity around these men from the village, some of whem are suspected of orchestrating their communication to the point of asking for 3000 dollars for a one-hour appearance on television. This weekend of September, the city celebrates the independence of Chile. Everyone attends the gala, the "fonda" as it is known here. The women run a stand, the stand of 33, it is the most empty as the party gets into full swing. Johnny, one of the survivors of the San José drama led a double life: his wife and his mistress both came to support him. He refuses to speak to the camera. Susanna, his mistress, is here preparing the skewers. She accuses the state and the mining company of letting the men down. Dario, another of the miners is depressed. Amongst the vacant stares, two musicians play throughout the night. Our crew member, Tito, tries to explain to families that we are not here to judge but to listen. But it is not easy to convince them. Even Pamela, a journalist with the local newspaper just about manages to convince them. We head a little way from the city and probably the most shocking moment of the trip. Jimmy is 20 and since his release from the mine, he stutters. Unemployed and too young to receive any compensation, he lives as a recluse in his neighborhood. Sometimes he is angry. "I want to scream out loud!" he says. But under his eyes dark, there is a glimmer of hope. It is his cherished dream to happily simply chase after the kites, on the outskirts of Copiapo.

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