A superb moment, and not just because it meant mission accomplished. Number 33 was Luis Urzua, the shift supervisor when the mine collapsed and by all accounts the leader of the group. He’s the one credited with having enforced “iron discipline” during the increasingly hopeless two and a half weeks in which they had little food and little hope that anyone was coming to get them. The Independent tells the tale:
It seems likely, though, that in the stressful conditions, leaders emerged. One such man was Luis Urzua, a 54-year-old topographer. The eldest son from a large Catholic family without a father, he was a natural authority figure.
Playing to the machismo of his colleagues – tough men in a hard profession – Mr Urzua is believed to have decided that they had a straightforward choice: perish separately, or work together to defy the odds and give themselves the best possible chance of survival. The key to getting themselves out alive, he believed, would be la solidaridad (solidarity).
Mr Urzua, whose colleagues called him Don Lucho, therefore instigated a system under which none of the 33 men could begin eating their tiny meals until all of them had received food. He organised them into three groups, who would venture out, in shifts, to search for signs of any approaching rescue. If nothing else, adding structure to their existence would help to pass the time.
That was before August 22, when the drill finally broke through and the men knew they’d be saved — eventually. Discipline was needed afterwards too. Urzua again:
Organised by Mr Urzua, the men were divided into three groups, Grupo Refugio, Grupo Rampa and Grupo 105 – named after the “shelter,” the “ramp” and “Level 105”, which are sections of the mine where they slept. They then established a working shift pattern. When off duty, they slept, exercised (by running or using rubber exercise bands) and sent video, audio, and written messages to their families. Lights shone from 7.30am until 10pm, mimicking daylight. To keep all the trappings of a normal workplace, Mr Urzua used the bonnet of a mine vehicle as his desk, and sent up maps of the area.
Mr Urzua wrote each of the men an official job description. Some became “palomistas,” unloading the regular supply of “doves”. Others would patrol the mine to check on the structural integrity of its walls. Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest of the group, was the “environmental assistant”, who monitored conditions underground with a handheld computer that measured oxygen, CO2 levels and air temperature.
When the time finally came for rescue, the men argued — not over who would be the first one out, but who would be the last. The captain of the ship ended up having the honor. Here he is with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, moments after emerging from the chute, joining in on the national anthem. Exit quotation: “Mr Urzua, your shift is over.”