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Countdown to Rescue

Aired October 16, 2010 - 20:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks for watching.

Tonight a look inside the rescue that riveted the world and brought 33 miners back from a dark, underground dungeon that might just as easily have become their tomb. Thirty three miracle men; they were alive when the first drill bit reached them 17 days after the mine in Chile's desert caved in.

From there on out, though, no miracle; just a remarkable human effort involving people, technology, and medical expertise from around the world. Down below, what might have turned into "Lord of the Flies" chaos instead became a 33-men democracy with miners organizing, choosing leaders, deciding on the honor of who would be the last to leave. While up above the race to save them was on, and so was the COUNTDOWN TO RESCUE.

In the hour ahead we're going to take you inside that race, moment by moment, the challenges and setbacks, how they were overcome, the mechanical and human ballet that made it all possible. All the elements that led first to images of miners safe underground and then ultimately to the incredible sight of those men emerging one by one from weeks of darkness.

We're going to start at the beginning with Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): August 5th, 2:00 in the afternoon. 2,300 feet underground, a shaft collapses in the San Jose Copper and Gold Mine. Thirty three miners are somewhere behind the rubble, their condition, unknown. The Chilean president promises every effort to rescue them, but new collapses complicate the formidable task.

August 12th, the miners' families have set up camp on the surface to keep watch on the drilling. A week has passed and an official says there is little chance the men survived. Relatives will later say they argued with that assessment from the start.

WIFE OF TRAPPED MINER (through translator): I always told the media, every time I was asked, I know my husband is fine. I know he's alive. And I know he's keeping up all the others in the mine, because that's the kind of person my husband is.

FOREMAN: Franklin Lobos' sister Magdalena never loses hope for a minute.

MAGDALENA LOBOS, SISTER OF A TRAPPED MINTER (through translator): I had a call while at home and I was told that Frankie was gone. But I said no, no. Frankie is alive. They're alive and God is going to get him out of there.

FOREMAN: So even as authorities hint that the search may need to wind down, the families are sending a clear message. Keep looking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The 33 men have been trapped underground since August 5th. Their families prayed that they were alive. Those prayers have been answered.

FOREMAN: August 22nd, a stunning breakthrough. An exploratory drill hits a chamber deep in the earth and comes up with a note attached. "All 33 of us are fine in the shelter."

FRANCISCO SIREDEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Scenes of joy, tears of happiness in the outside of this mine, located at the northern part of Chile, about 450 miles north of Santiago, our country's capital. We said after 17 days we didn't know anything about them, the mining probe that was drilled down into the mine made contact with the shelter. The shelter was located about 2,250 feet below surface. And the probe, when they -- it came out with a piece of paper that had a message written on it, it said, "We are all right, that we are in the shelter, the 33 of us."

LUIS MAMANI, BROTHER OF TRAPPED MINER (through translator): I'm very proud of my brother because he's strong and that's why he's been able to achieve this; to remain alive for 11 days.

FOREMAN: Rescuers celebrate, too, knowing that technology and teamwork have produced a near miracle.

PEDRO RIVEROS, RESCUER (through translator): All of you who brought us coffee, who brought us food, who made the logistics of all this possible. This is what brought this about. This country never gave up, and -- and we miners, we never will give up.

FOREMAN: A phone line is dropped down, and rescuers above hear as if from beyond the grave, the trapped, exhausted miners singing the national anthem.

Soon, a video camera is lowered, and the first, ghostly pictures emerge.

The miners, through strict discipline and rationing, have survived 17 days on two days' worth of food. Now supplies pour down the pipeline while gratitude rises up. "Hello to my family, my children, my wife, my mom", one man says before he breaks into tears. "Thanks so much from all of my heart," another adds in the ghostly darkness.

The miners have organized a chain of command. Each one has been given a job. They have times for work, for exercise, for relaxation. The routine has clearly kept spirits up. "Real soon we'll be out of here", yet another assures those above. But real soon runs smack into reality. Engineers studying the chamber where the miners are trapped have reached a daunting conclusion. It may take up to four months to bring them out.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN VIDEO CORRESPONDENT: Up on this barren hillside, relatives have planted a flag for each of the miners trapped underground. Thirty-two Chilean flags, one Bolivian flag. And as long as it takes, the Chilean government is vowing to bring each one of them home alive.


COOPER: I want to bring you our Karl Penhaul now, who was the first for CNN on the scene; he got there just days after they were found alive. Karl, when the first drill that came through and the miners attached a note to it, and we have some pictures of the note, the President of Chile held up the note, what -- do you -- what did the note say? And -- and -- I mean, did -- did the people who were drilling know that they were alive? Or were they just kind of seeing what would happen?

PENHAUL: No, they had no knowledge or, in fact, after all this period, 17 days, and the difficulties it was sending the probe into the mine, the one of the reasons, the difficulties of putting that probe into the mine and locating exactly the refuge area was because the mine map supplied by the mining company was so out of date they didn't know where the refuge was, according to those maps.

So really it was sticking a whole series of different probes into that hillside, the proverbial needle in the haystack. So after the 17 days they came up to the refuge. They didn't know if the men were alive. And so what the men did was bang, bang, bang on the side of that drill with a spanner to send a vibration up the tube. They painted the tip of the drill red to let them know and they taped on two notes.

The first note written by Jose Ojeda, which said, "Estamos bien en le refugio los trenta y tres" (ph). He said, "We're in the refuge, the 33 of us, we are well." And that, when that got to the surface, was the most miraculous message to the rescuers on top. They didn't believe that all 33 would have made it. They didn't believe that they would be able to hit the refuge; by that time they were almost giving up hope.

But there was a second note attached to that drill bit as well by the oldest, most veteran miner, Mario Gomez, 63 years old, to his wife. And I remember the words at that and it starts off, "Dear Lila, I'm well. Thanks to God, we will make it out of here."

COOPER: Karl, when you first arrived, how organized was it?

PENHAUL: Well, the families themselves were very organized, because they had been there already 17 days, standing vigil for these miners. It was really the families that drove the whole initial phase of this rescue operation, because they clearly said to the government and they clearly said to the mine company, "You will give us back our loved ones, dead or alive. If they are dead, you will burrow down and bring their bodies back. And if they are alive, you will find them."

So they had organized themselves physically into one large group. Of course, they were living under very rudimentary conditions. People who had the warmth of their own homes in a city, had gone up to the middle of the Chilean desert and were camping out in the boiling hot days, and in the absolutely frigid nights -- Anderson.

COOPER: And -- and for the miners down below, those first 17 days, I mean, I think those -- that's really the most extraordinary of all. Because they really -- it was completely -- they were left up to themselves. They didn't know if -- if anyone was going to be able to find them. They didn't know if anybody knew they were alive or everyone just assumed they were dead.

And they really kind of organized themselves. They started rationing food, and -- and they really were responsible for their own survival in those times.

PENHAUL: Those 17 days are the most key and the most amazing period, from what I can figure out from the early interviews. Now, of course we're hearing that the miners have some kind of pact of silence, so we're not hearing full details. But the details that I have so far heard from those miners, they had 120 cans of tuna between 33 of them. That meant that they'd rationed out half a plastic spoonful of tuna per miner a day.

They organized themselves into work groups but even so they say they couldn't see a hand in front of their faces for those first 17 days. It was so dim. And then, the issue, the shift foreman there, Luis Urzua, stepping up and saying, guys -- he said -- he said, in some comments that we have from him, that he decided that his only leadership quality would be to tell the truth to these men, and at one stage he said I'm going to tell you straight, guys. "We may make it, but more likely we're going to die."

And it seems that the men really appreciated that kind of honesty, though -- although it shocked them. Some of those men just fell to the floor and literally didn't get up for a couple of days until their colleagues rallied around them.

But he told it to them straight, and said, "We may make it out of here, we may not. And the men soon have taken that onboard they say for the first 17 days we were aware, they may find us and if they find us, they find us. If not, not."

COOPER: Well, amazing. Amazing. Karl, I appreciate all your reporting in these long weeks and months. Thanks very much.

When we come back the three-way race to drill the rescue shaft into the mine: the American whose team made it there first and one chilling moment when the drillers heard a bang far down below.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was what we didn't want to hear was something like that, because we still hadn't punched through into the mine. And so it was -- it was definitely a -- a heart stopper. We're thinking, man, something -- something goes wrong in the last minute.






COOPER: Thirty-three miners alive, apparently well, but this was a good news/bad news story taken to a chilling extreme.

The bad news: 33 men, all different ages, physical shape, temperament, might be stuck underground until Christmas -- four months down below. How would they endure, let alone thrive, as they did?

Tom Foreman picks up the story.


FOREMAN (voice-over): August 31, after a message of support from the Pope and a careful review of plans, tunneling to the chamber begins. Three tunnels will be drilled simultaneously, dubbed simply plans A, B and C.

PENHAUL: A key piece of machinery, part of the machine that will be used to drill a hole down to the shelter 700 meters in the ground where the miners are, is now being moved into place.

FOREMAN: Plan A relies on a drill used to make ventilation shafts, cutting straight down to the chamber. Plan B uses a drill for digging water wells, and will come in from an angle. And Plan C will involve a drill used for oil exploration. Experts from around the world have been called to consult on the engineering and the welfare of the miners.

DR. JAMES POLK, SPACE MEDICINE DIVISION CHIEF, NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION: This is an operation that's probably unprecedented in scope. Never have so many been trapped for so long so deeply.

FOREMAN: The miners themselves are apprised of the rescue plans, and approve.

UNIDENTIFIED MINER (through translator): "We are more calm with the video you sent us. Everything upstairs is exactly the way we imagined it."

FOREMAN: September 6th, a problem. The B drill, which seems to be making the best progress, breaks and must be repaired.

RENE AGUILAR, RESCUER WORKING TO SAVE TRAPPED CHILEAN MINERS: Obvious, they are a little anxious because of the -- the problems that we -- we had with the Plan B, but everything is understandable right now for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're still on schedule?

AGUILAR: Of course.

FOREMAN: Throughout the month, the waiting and drilling go on. Electricity and lights are fed down to the men, who have lived in utter darkness, except for occasional use of their helmet lamps.

Through the small bore holes, mail is sent from loved ones above, clean clothing is pushed down, oxygen, water as well. The miners have asked for a Chilean flag and some religious objects, including a crucifix.

Concern over their health persists. Many have lost weight and are sending messages about their struggle.

JAIME MANALICH, CHILEAN MINISTER OF HEALTH: They are not sleeping well. They -- they -- that they are very nervous, in some ways, depressed.

NORMA LAGUES, MOTHER OF TRAPPED MINER (through translator): "I want to eat so many things. I'm hungrier than ever. All these days, I have been dreaming about my mom cooking for me."

FOREMAN: By and large, they show remarkable resilience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I want to say thank you to all our families who had the courage not to abandon us. We know what you have done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We're calm down here. Conditions are not that good, but we know we will make it out.

September 26th, as if to prove it, the capsule designed to bring the men up through whichever bore hole is done first arrives. It is red, white and blue, the colors of the Chilean flag. It is called the Phoenix.

LAURENCE GOLBORNE, CHILEAN MINE MINISTER: Because I think it's a process of rebirth. What we expect is that we are going to have these miners out of this mine. And it's a sort of rebirth to a new life.

FOREMAN: October 1st, everything speeds up. Officials unexpectedly announce the rescue, which many thought might take until Christmas, is now slated for the second half of the month.

October 9th, word comes that drill B is bearing down on the miners. There's now sharp concern that the drill could cause a general collapse in the chamber. The final moments are nerve-wracking -- then -- victory.

The path it has cut is narrow, twisting and will need to be shored up with steel pipe. But for the miners, it is golden. And three days later, the first rescuer steps into the capsule and descends.


COOPER: Joining us now is one of the men responsible for punching that rescue down into the mine faster than anyone could hope.

Jeff Hart knows drilling and knows life and death. His last gig was in Afghanistan. He's an engineer with the Layne Christensen Company. I spoke with him moments after the first miner was brought to the surface.


COOPER: Congratulations.

What was it like for to you see the -- this first man being brought out alive, after you have been working on this and your colleagues around the clock to make sure this happens?

JEFF HART, LEAD DRILLER FOR THE MINE RESCUE: We worked real long and hard on that. And to actually see that capsule come through the first time through the hole that we drilled is -- is just unbelievable. We're all kind of in disbelief that we're a part of this.

COOPER: You had more than a part, and your colleagues did as well, because you guys were working around the clock.

There were three different drills, three different, A -- plan A, B and C. You were Plan B. You actually started later, but you broke through first.

I heard you say that -- I read that you said this was the -- the most -- most difficult drilling project you have worked on. And you just came back from Afghanistan, where you were helping American forces drill wells. Why was this one so tough?

HART: The geology and the strata here is very difficult to drill. It's very abrasive, extremely hard. It's got very broken parts in it.

And so it -- it just -- it eats up bits. We had a hard time with the angle, keeping the bushings in the -- in the bits. And we just had issues, but together, as a team, everybody just kind of came together and we made this thing work. And it's an awesome feeling.

COOPER: And were you manning the drill when it actually broke through, when it actually reached the miners?

HART: Yes, sir, I was.

COOPER: What was that feeling like? I mean, what -- did you actually -- did -- could you tell that it had gotten that close?

HART: You know, we did.

We -- we stopped 2.5 meters shy, just so we could make sure the miners could actually go down and measure to make sure our depths were correct. They did, over the phone, tell us, it is 2.5 meters. So, drilling the last couple of meters is obviously nerve-wracking. We could still have a failure at that point and lose the hole. So, until you're actually in the mine, it's -- it's not over.

So, yes, we -- we -- we had a very nerve-wracking couple of meters there. And, then, in the last six inches we had something around the rig pop. Everybody's asked us about that. We still today don't know what that was. But --

COOPER: I -- I heard you -- you described it as the -- you thought your heart almost stopped.

HART: You know, well, I tell you, that -- that's exactly what it was, because that was what we didn't want to hear is something like that, because we still hadn't punched through into the mine. And so it was -- it was definitely a heart-stopper. We're thinking, man, something -- something goes wrong in the last minute.

So but it ended up, we watched the video that the miners had for us come through into the mine and everything worked out well.

COOPER: You are a hero and not only to the people there, but to everyone around the world who has been watching, you and all your colleagues.

HART: I appreciate that. Thank you much, Anderson.


COOPER: When we come back: testing the shaft and the rescue pod, planning the rescue and choosing an emergency worker to make that first unknown journey deep into the earth, the man who would be the first into the mine and more than a day later the very last man out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Good luck. Good luck, Manuel. Imagine you're at the beach. Imagine you're at the beach.

Good luck, my brother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Good luck. Good luck, Manolo.






COOPER: Such a dramatic moment, rescuer Manuel Gonzalez being lowered into the escape shaft. It happened at 10:19 p.m. Eastern time. He was literally charting the unknown. He was the first of six rescuers who would descend into that darkness. Now, remember, until that moment, the escape capsule had been tested unmanned and had never been all the way down. The tests had gone well, but there are never guarantees in any rescue operation, especially one on this scale.

As Gonzalez and the capsule vanished from sight, the world waited with fingers crossed. And what we saw minutes later was truly extraordinary.

Here's Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sixty-eight days after the collapse of the San Jose Mine, the beginning of the end of the saga is now clearly in sight. The world gasps in disbelief at the images from more than 2,000 feet underground. It's the first time anyone outside the immediate rescue team has seen live video of the miners.

There are cheers and hugs for the first rescuer, Manuel Gonzalez. He is the first person to have physical contact with the miners since August. The men appear in good shape, most of them in their underwear and shirtless in the 80-degree heat of the mine.

Thirty-one-year-old Florencio Avalos switches places with Gonzalez.

Up above, an anxious quiet falls over the rescue workers and families. There's also now a nervous silence among the 32 miners still underground.

(on camera): We have been told this would take about 15 to 17 minutes for him to be brought up, but the wheel seems to be moving quicker than the wheel when they went down to get the miners.

What's amazing, Anderson, is this. This is the ultimate live shot, I've got to tell you. This reminds me of when I was 8 years old watching Neil Armstrong step on the moon for the first time. That's the kind of awe that we have here.

(voice-over): After 15 agonizing minutes, the top of the Phoenix emerges and Avalos finally reaches the surface.

It's now 11:11 p.m. Eastern time; in nearby Copiapo, pandemonium.

Avalos appears to be in good physical condition. Rescuers feared the miners would become dizzy during the long, bumpy ride, but Avalos walks out of the capsule unaided, wearing special sunglasses to protect his eyes from the glare of the rescue lights.

He hugs family members, who are crying with joy at his return.

He also hugs Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and other rescue workers before being wheeled into a nearby medical facility.

During those long months of isolation, Avalos was the cameraman, filming video of the miners to send up to their families on the surface.

Those families, even while celebrating Avalos' return, hope the other 32 survivors, including Avalos' brother, will soon climb one by one into the capsule for their own ride back to freedom.


COOPER: Gary, Florencio Avalos, he had been the cameraman for a lot of the videos that we had been watching for -- for several weeks, and he was selected because he was -- he was in good health. But I don't think anyone realized, once he got to the top just, I mean, how good health he -- he seemed to be in.

TUCHMAN: No. It was amazing. We didn't know what to expect, because these men had been underground for almost ten weeks, and the cage opened, he got out, and he was joyous, he looked refreshed. He was just so ecstatic obviously, and his little son was there with tears coming out of his eyes. It was just an amazing moment. It made us realize this was going to be an incredible day or two days -- we didn't know at the time -- of these emotional, amazing reunions that we would never get tired of watching.

COOPER: Yes. Was there talk at all of sending up the weakest members first? Before they ultimately decided to send up two of the stronger members?

TUCHMAN: The idea was they didn't know how this capsule called the Phoenix 2 would react, the first couple of times it went up. They'd tested it without human beings. A mine rescue official went down and that was successful but they didn't know necessarily, 100 percent sure, what would happen when a miner went up in it.

COOPER: I don't think a lot of these rescuers get the recognition that they deserve.

TUCHMAN: No. It was really amazing. That was one of the things we didn't know about, that so many rescuers would go down in the mine. But they were key, they made sure that everything was organized. They made sure that everyone was calm, that they were dressed properly, that they were mentally ready for the ride up. And it was nice.

We covered the 33 men coming up, and that was a very happy moment, but then we continued to cover the important story of the six mine rescuers because it was still a risky ride. When the six of them got up, all 39 men, that was a cause for a major celebration.

COOPER: No doubt about it. Incredible moment, Gary thanks.

Florencio Avalos was the first miner freed but there were so many more reunions in the hours ahead over the next 24 hours. How it all played out. We'll show you ahead.





ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, I'm Isha Sesay. More COUNTDOWN TO RESCUE, AC 360 SPECIAL REPORT in a moment; first, a 360 "News and Business Bulletin". In Chile, a homecoming celebration for one of the rescued miners, all but two of the 33 men are out of the hospital tonight.

Meanwhile, a gold mine has collapsed in Ecuador trapping four miners, rescue workers expect to reach the miners by Saturday, but it's unclear if they are alive.

At a military hearing today, a soldier testified he captured the Ft. Hood shootings on his cell phone camera but was ordered to erase it by an officer. Major Nidal Hasan is accused of killing 13 people in the shooting spree last November. The hearing is to decide if he will be court-martialed.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says the fed might take new action to give the economy a boost due to high unemployment.

And rapper T.I. is heading back to prison for 11 months after violating his probation with a drug arrest. More of COUNTDOWN TO RESCUE after this.





COOPER: When Florencio Avalos stepped out of that escape capsule at 11:11 p.m. Eastern time, it felt like the beginning of the end, one miner safely out, breathing fresh air for the first time, hugging his family; living, smiling proof that the unprecedented rescue plan could work and maybe it would work for everybody.

It was still a marathon ahead; 32 more miners still waiting a half mile underground. Would their nerves hold steady? Would the escape capsule hold up? They did, and it did.

Over the next 24 hours, a real life drama unfolded in real time, so many incredible moments. Here's Tom Foreman.


FOREMAN: Mario Sepulveda rose out of the earth, hugged his wife, then embraced his whole country.

"I was with God and the devil," he said. God won.

The long night ended for the youngest miner, Jimmy Sanchez, 19; for the only foreigner, Bolivian Carlos Mamani; and for Jose Ojeda who wrote the note that told everyone, "We're alive."

At 63, Mario Gomez, the oldest, was the first freed in the new dawn. He kissed his wife and prayed. So did others.

Esteban Rojas, trapped with two cousins, asked his wife to renew their wedding vows while below. She said yes.

Edison Pena led sing-alongs of Elvis songs underground.

Ariel Ticona's wife had a baby while he was below.

Victor Zamora and his wife are expecting one. "I hope this new life ahead of you is happy," the Chilean president told him.

So it went, around the clock. And finally, the last man, the leader for all the trapped miners, Luis Urzua.

"You have been an inspiration," he is told. "The country is not the same after this."

Then they sang the Chilean national anthem; a song of hope, unity and strength for people who have shown so much of all three.

At last, the six rescuers who descended to help were brought up. The first one in was the last one out. Manuel Gonzalez waved and bowed to the camera so far below, then rode up to a tumultuous celebration. Then a talk with the president about the lessons of the disaster, the rescue, and the hope for the future.

"I hope we have learned from this, and that Chilean mining will be different, he said. "I hope things that will be done correctly, that things will be done right. This is what I want."


COOPER: Just amazing moments. Up next, how they did it. How the 33 miners survived. While trapped for more than two months under a half mile of rock and 17 days before they even knew whether or not anyone knew they were alive. We're going to take a close look at what it takes mentally to endure, with adventurer Bear Grylls of "Man vs. The Wild".


BEAR GRYLLS, "MAN VS. THE WILD": I think one of the hardest things to deal with for the survivor is the not knowing. Not knowing whether rescuers ever going to be able to reach you. Not knowing if anyone is looking for you, you know. Those are really hard emotions to deal with.






COOPER: That was Mario Sepulveda, the second miner pulled to safety leading the cheer. No mistaking his joy. He was glowing, pumped and it's hard to believe he'd spent more than two months underground. We saw over and over as the miners were pulled just how resilient they seemed and how happy, obviously, after all they'd been through. Few of us, of course, are ever going to come close to experiencing what they have experienced, thankfully.

Not even Bear Grylls, who's host of Discovery Channel's "Man vs. Wild". He has made a career out of testing his own limits. We talked via Skype about what it takes to live through such extreme conditions.


COOPER: From a survival standpoint, what really stands out to you about this story?

GRYLLS: It's just -- it's such a long period of time, you know? It's hard to kind of get a grasp of just what it must be like to be underground for that amount of time.

I've kind of endured storms on mountains, being stuck in snow holes for long periods of time, but we're always talking kind of days, rather than weeks and months, and you know, I think just, you know, the reality of what these guys have gone through is going to take a long time to recover.

And I think what would happen is there would be a mass euphoria initially of those outpouring of emotion, but it's actually kind of -- that's a honeymoon period. The hard time I think for the survivors will actually be a month or two down the line when your body and your mind starts to process a lot of the emotions you've kept a lid on all that time underground.

COOPER: The other thing that really stands out to me is that, especially those first, you know, 16 or 17 days after they've realized they were trapped, when they weren't sure if rescue was coming. They weren't sure if anyone was going to be able to find them.

They're in pitch-black conditions. They're in a room about 600 or so square feet, there's 33 of them; that's got to be the toughest time even for guys who are used to being underground, just not knowing if anyone's going to actually find them.

GRYLL: Really terrifying. And I think one of the hardest emotions to deal with for the survivors is the not knowing. Not knowing whether rescue is ever going to be able to reach you, not knowing if anyone is looking for you. Those are really hard emotions to deal with.

I think once they realized there was a glimmer of hope, however small that glimmer was, then you could start to set into that routine. But that initial not knowing must be very frightening. I think also the fact that your senses become deprived of everything we take for granted like light, warmth, sleep, rest, even things like family, love, children, you know, you start taking all of that away from people, and you know, stuff happens and I think all emotions get very heightened. So the good emotions, the bad emotions, things get blown out of proportion.

And I think for these guys, they pulled this off and survived this. It's something they should be so, so proud of and what an amazing experience for them to go through.

COOPER: And for those first 16 or 17 days before the drill got to them, they were basically surviving on little pieces of fish -- I read mackerel and tuna -- that were already in the mine and also obviously water. How long can someone go just on that kind of a diet?

GRYLLS: Well, you're into survival food then, you know? But your body can last up to like 40 days without food. They're on very limited rations, they can survive a while. But again, it's measured in weeks. And the important thing for them was water, which they did have.

But again, you're really reduced to basic levels of life. And you know, you've got to just admire that fortitude and that courage and the way they must have had to work together. And it just shows that as human beings, when, you know, we're really put up against it, actually we're all survivors underneath it, regardless of how we see ourselves and we struggle with this, and struggle with that. But actually when we're squeezed, we're like grapes. You see what we're made of.

And these guys should be really, really proud. Wow, what an amazing journey.

COOPER: Is this an experiment you'd want to try on your show? Being underground for this long?

GRYLLS: No. Three months, I won't last for long -- no. At the end, we tend to take about five or six days to film on "Man vs. Wild" and at the end of that I'm well, well ready to get out of there and get home.

I admire these guys so much. I've been praying for them, and I'm so glad to see them on their way to safety. I once went 3 1/2 months without a shower and it took me about a month to smell normal again. So I don't know what these guys are going to smell like at the end. But what a journey and I'm so glad they're on their way out.

COOPER: Bear Grylls, appreciate your time. Thank you.

GRYLLS: Take care.


COOPER: Up next, the unforgettable moments like this one, the rescue workers down below holding a banner that read "Mission Accomplished" after the last miner made it to the top. Gary Tuchman shares the special moments he remembers most, coming up.








COOPER: That's Franklin Lobos, electrician in the mine, the 27th miner to emerge. He's a former professional soccer player, no doubt wanted to make sure his skills were still up to par.

One of the most incredible moments was when the first rescuer to reach the miners, Manuel Gonzalez arrived in the underground chamber. We weren't even sure -- we didn't know we were going to get video images of that, but suddenly there it was, popped up on the computer screen.




COOPER: Being able to witness history of those miners' first contact with a human being from the outside world, first direct contact in more than two months.

I want to bring in Gary Tuchman. Gary, so many amazing moments since this rescue unfolded and as you covered it. What really stands out for you?

TUCHMAN: What stands out for me, Anderson, is when the first miner, Florencio Avalos, made it to the top. And the reason it was so significant is because we weren't 100 percent sure that this would be successful. It was very nerve-wracking.

And once we knew that the capsule started moving and we were watching the wheel turn to the clockwise position which meant it was coming up. And we watched the rope getting pulled. We knew it would take 15 to 17 minutes for Florencio to make it to the top. But it seemed like an hour and 15 minutes, two hours and 15 minutes. Time went so slowly.

Finally when we saw the top of the capsule come above the hole and saw this man in the cage, it was just amazing because not only do we know that this man was safe and that he was going to greet his beautiful family over there, but it made us realize we didn't need to be as tense. There was good cause to know it would be successful, and indeed, 32 more men, 32 more miners made it successfully out. COOPER: I sort of felt, watching it on television throughout the day, I kind of felt bad for the miners who got out later, because sort of the excitement of it, maybe for some of the spectators around the world had waned. For people there, though, it seemed like there was equal enthusiasm for everybody who came out.

TUCHMAN: It was really incredible, Anderson, because I was watching it on a perch where we could eyeball the situation about 200 yards away. And I was with about 150 other reporters from all over the world. It was like the United Nations of journalism. And each and every time a rescue would occur, there were TVs about five minutes away from where we were standing doing our live reports. We would gather near the TVs when we weren't on the air, and everyone watched with equal interest and emotion, and we kind of forgot we were reporters, that we were just people watching it. We were caught up in it each and every time.

COOPER: Yes. Well, Gary, appreciate all your hard work and your team as well, and all our reporters covering this story. Gary, appreciate it. Thanks.

Of course the story is far from over. Thirty-three men and their families have begun their lives again. Begun them anew, some of the miners say. There are going to be a lot more stories to come.

For now, though, that's our report.

Thanks for watching.

We'll see you next time.