Rescuing the miners: PR and self-effacement

By Jill Segger
October 18, 2010

You would have to have a harder heart than mine not to have been affected by the rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners.

Their return to the upper world, with its undertones of birth and resurrection was deeply moving.

But amongst all the media hoop-la (and what would we have heard if these men had met an unimaginably horrible death half a mile below the earth?) it is unfortunate that some facts are being overlooked.

Chile's recently elected president, Sebastian Piñera had a good crisis. Greeting the trapped men as they emerged one by one in the Atacama desert, he was evidently genuinely overjoyed. But the man who has made himself a billionaire by introducing credit cards to Chile, has - understandably many would say - made the most of the situation to advance both his own standing and that of his country.

At present visiting the UK, Piñera has claimed that Winston Churchill “inspired our mine rescue”. Well, maybe. But posing with a cigar in the Cabinet War Rooms at Westminster was possibly neither the wisest nor the most sensitive action.

However, Piñera's PR assault appears to be paying off. Walter Molano, head of research at BCP Securities, an investment bank with interests in Chile says that the rescue “underscores Chile as a member of the developed world”.

The Chilean government displayed good sense in seeking help and advice from NASA who were able to offer expertise in the management of isolated environments and of appropriate medical care. But the real skill and technical know-how in this amazing rescue operation belonged to two men from an engineering company based in Pennsylvania.

Richard Soppe and Brandon Fisher of Center Rock Inc spent 37 “non-stop” days drilling the 2000 foot communication and rescue shafts. They offered their services after hearing that the Chilean authorities had predicted it would take until Christmas to get the men out. After researching the geology of the area, Soppe and Fisher were sure that the specialist drill they had developed for cutting through hard rock could produce a quicker result.

Taken in consideration with the experience they gained in participating in the rescue of nine miners at Quecreek in 2002, Fisher explained that “I don't know how we could have slept knowing we had the technology to help in Chile”.

Because the Chilean rig-team was not familiar with their technical system, Soppe and Fisher worked round the clock in three day shifts. Once the break-through was made, they decided to leave, believing “we had to do the right thing and back off”.

That skill, dedication and self-effacement has not made the headlines. This was Chile's day in the spotlight and its government deserves credit for seeking and accepting the expertise of other nationals. But Piñera's Churchillian posing and presentation of stones from the mine to his UK hosts looks a little tawdry in the light of these words from Richard Soppe whose company does not expect to be reimbursed: “I've worked on a lot of projects in my 35 years in the field, all of them about money. This one was about life”

Keywords:rescue | pinera | chile
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