On October 13, 2010, at 11:11 a.m., I was captivated by images of human beings deep in the Chilean desert as they emerged from the ground in a simple metal capsule dubbed the “Phoenix.” My emotions overwhelmed me when Florencio Avalos became the first miner rescued after 69 days underground. During that powerful moment, made possible by the collaborative creativity and efforts of people from around the world, I felt I was right there in the desert with those who were present to celebrate the rescue. Still, I had no idea that this event so far away, which captured the hearts and minds of so many, would actually become an integral part of my life.
I have had the opportunity to work with the Smithsonian Institution during the last 10 months in developing an exhibit about the rescue. “Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine” highlights the entire saga, from mine collapse through the first harrowing days of uncertainty during which the fate of the miners was still unknown to the triumphant conclusion.
The “Fenix” is the centerpiece of the special exhibit set to open today at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History on the one-year anniversary of the mine collapse. In addition to the capsule, the exhibit includes other artifacts from the rescue, mineral samples from the mine, graphics and maps of the mine and its underground tunnels, a cross-section of the rescue scenario, and a video and images of the rescue. It highlights how the Government of Chile assembled an international team of experts to assist in the rescue, including NASA, Center Rock Inc., and other U.S. companies. This exhibit truly combines the technical side of the rescue with an emphasis on the human aspects of the story, sharing the emotions, motivations, and tension among Chileans that were powerful enough to reverberate internationally.
In that way, the exhibit explores the plight of 33 ordinary people whose perseverance and story of triumph nonetheless captured the attention of the world. Although many everyday people, like me, were touched by the struggle, some individuals and companies went beyond empathy to support the Chilean government's valiant efforts to meet the needs of those Chilean miners. It has been humbling to look back at this worldwide initiative and see the level of compassion and collaboration throughout the crisis, from average citizens to governments and private organizations. That is the focus of this exhibit: to remind us of things worth remembering, and the cooperative spirit that made them possible. Together, partners accomplished a modern-day miracle.