Chilean mine rescue proves television’s growing power


Chilean miner Jose Ojeda displays the Chilean flag as he steps from the Fenix capsule after been brought to the surface at the San Jose mine, near the city of Copiapo, Chile. Photo: MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images


At this moment, and hours that have stretched from yesterday, the world has been mesmerized by the dramatic live video coverage of 33 trapped Chilean miners being brought to earth’s surface. It has been the ultimate reality TV show.


Relatives watched the rescue of the miner Carlos Barrios on television. Photo: Luis Hidalgo/Reuters


The power of television again connected the world- This time to a remote spot in Chile where we watched live,, hoping  for the miner’s safe journey as they ascended one-by-one to their loved ones in an entirely different type of space capsule.  Unlike man’s 238,000 mile journey to the moon, this space capsule covered a meager 2,300 feet. The technology that made this lifesaving feat possible though may have been just as impressive.


The last of the 33 Chilean miners to be rescued, Luis Urzua, embraces Chilean President Sebastian Pinera after being brought to the surface from the San Jose mine, near Copiapo, Chile. Photo: Juan Mabromata, AFP/Getty Images


At 7:54 p.m., Lincoln, Nebraska time, the last of the miners, Luis Urzua, emerged from the darkness and marked a seemingly perfect rescue  operation that lasted less than a day.

“I was with God, and I was with the devil,” Sepulveda, 40, said upon reaching freedom. “They both fought for me. God won.”

We have witnessed, through live television, video of the miners, trapped 2,300 feet below ground for 69 days, being freed, hoisted home to breathe cool, fresh air and to be reunited with their families.

“Remarkable communications technology — including live video from within the mine — turned the entire world into a global village hoping for the safe release of men they did not know and would probably never meet,” wrote an Associated Press dispatch.


Roxana Gomez, left, the daughter of Mario Gomez, watched his rescue on television. Photo: Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press


These TV  moments give commonality and clarity to people around world over.  We’ve again shared a collective moment we’ll likely remember for the rest of our lives. We’ll remember where we were, who we were with and what we were doing as this historic rescue took place.

Television, by capturing this unfolding drama, let us witness it all-

  • The jubilant smiles, the tears of joy and relief of the miners, their families and friends.
  • More than a thousand rescue personnel who have help make the seemingly impossible possible.
  • And the media throng, some 1,300 strong, who have assembled in this desert-outpost-turned-satellite-boom-town, to report every detail of this saga.

In the end we are left to marvel at the amazing survival and rescue of the 33 miners.  Most of us won’t remember their names. We will remember their images and the hope they instilled in so many of us thanks to the enduring power of television.


Famous TV moments: The 9-11 attacks, JFK's assassination, the first man to walk on the moon, Princess Diana's death, the O-J Simpson verdict, Nelson Madella's freedom after serving 27 years in a South African prison.


Unlike other collective TV moments- the 9-11 attacks, JFK’s assassination, the first man to walk on the moon, Princess Diana’s death, the O-J Simpson verdict, Nelson Madella’s freedom after serving 27 years in a South African prison – television’s reach may be far greater today thanks to the Internet and mobile devices.


The U.S. networks did not carry the rescue live, but via the Internet you could see it unfold on websites such as the BBC's.


The U.S. networks did not carry the rescue live as the first miner was freed on Tuesday evening. We were able though to watch the event unfold over the Internet via the Chilean government’s website, CNN, the BBC and many other international websites. It was live, uninterrupted and in real time. It also put our own lives into perspective, a reminder how fortunate many of us are to live where we live and do what we do.


The Chilean government website offered mobile device options for smart phones, laptops and wireless tablets.


The Chilean government website and others also offered mobile device options for smart phones, laptops and wireless tablets.

I suspect this too has changed the global village experience. It is one that now allows people to be connected to live, televised events as groups watching together, or increasingly watching by themselves at home, in cars, as they walk or sip their java in a local coffee house. I’m not sure if the latter is a positive or negative, but it is a growing technological reality.

Television, as it has before, reunites us as humans. What’s different this time are the many platforms television is using to put us all on the same page, singularly and collectively, and doing it in places where television has never gone before.   Do you agree?

About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
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3 Responses to Chilean mine rescue proves television’s growing power

  1. Pingback: Best in Blogs: Miner Miracle (and Free iPods); Christine O’Donnell Goes Viral; Back to the Future – Again »

  2. Jon Josserand says:

    The medium was part of the story, but maybe the real story is the nature of the narrative itself: people have a morbid fascination by mine disasters. If you have not, sometime watch the 50’s movie: “Ace in the Hole”

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