A three-year investigation of the causes of the San José mine accident, in which 33 miners stayed trapped underground for 69 days in 2010, has resolved that nobody is to blame. Attorney-General Héctor Mella, of the Atacama District Attorney’s office, assured that there was not enough evidence for an indictment.
The miners have not taken the news well. “Today, they’ve killed us,” said Mario Sepúlveda, one of the rescued miners, to Chilean radio station ADN.
The San José copper mine, in northern Chile, collapsed on August 5, 2010. It took two weeks to find out what had happened to the miners: to the world’s relief and Chile’s euphoria, all 33 were alive and safe. With the help of the international community, three months later all men were brought to the surface alive.
The Atacama District Attorney’s office started an investigation almost immediately, to determine who had to answer for the lack of safety measures. The process pointed at the Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería, the public institution that supervises mining, and the owners of San José, Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny. However, they did not find evidence that supported malpractice or a human error.
“We always maintained that 'the 33' [as the event has come to be known in Chile] was a horrible accident, it was just that: an accident,” said attorney Catalina Lathrop to Chilean newspaper La Tercera. “My clients had no responsibility in what happened.”
The miners made their unhappiness over the decision well known, emphasizing that all live in precarious economic situations. Some of them still suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I am patriotic, I love my Chile, and I want Chile to do justice,” said Sepúlveda, who has been acting as spokesman for the group.
They are now waiting for the resolution of their lawsuit, which demands $500,000 in damages for each of them. Most are still not working, and they live off the $13,000 they received for the rights of the movie that it is being filmed on their story.
The Ministry of Defense has asked of the owners of the mine, who declared bankruptcy after the accident, to pay $5 million to compensate for the costs of the rescue, which needed the help of foreign companies and the expertise of NASA.