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LATIN AMERICA

Prosecutors close Chile mining accident investigation with no indictments

The 33 miners trapped in the San José Mine for 69 days in 2010 feel “slaughtered”

One of the miners prays after being rescued.
One of the miners prays after being rescued.GETTYIMAGES

Prosecutors have concluded their three-year investigation into the collapse inside a Chilean mine that left 33 miners trapped for 69 days without filing charges against anyone or holding the mining company responsible for the accident.

“They just slaughtered us today,” said Mario Sepúlveda, one of the miners who was trapped 700 meters below the earth surface in 2010, in an interview with Chilean radio.

Héctor Mella, the prosecutor in Atacama region who led the inquiry, said “there was no conviction for an indictment.”

The miners were trapped on August 5, 2010 inside the San José Mine, located outside the northern Chilean city of Copiapó, by a massive roof collapse. At first they were all thought dead, but 17 days later rescue workers discovered that all of them had survived. Through holes burrowed deep, emergency teams sent down food, clothes and equipment until their rescue.

The entire world watched on October 13 as a rescue team lowered down a special capsule, dubbed the Fénix 2, and brought each miner safely to the surface one-by-one. The entire operation lasted 25 hours.

My clients cannot be held responsible in this case"

After the accident, the prosecutor’s office in Copiapó opened a criminal investigation to see if someone should be held responsible for the incident.

The San José Mine had been closed twice previously for safety violations and multiple fatalities.

The inquiry targeted regional officials from the National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin), which is responsible for supervising mining ventures, and the owners of the copper and gold mine, Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny.

Defense lawyer Catalina Lathrop praised the prosecutor’s decision, saying his clients were never responsible for the accident.

“We have always stated that what happened to the 33 miners was an unfortunate accident and nothing more. My clients cannot be held responsible in this case,” she told the Santiago daily La Tercera.

“The 33,” as the miners are collectively known in Chile, have been giving interviews to different news outlets since the decision was handed down on Thursday.

“Being a patriot, who has traveled to 30 countries describing my Chile – telling everyone that Chile is capable of handing down justice – I am only asking for that justice to be delivered,” Sepúlveda said. “I don’t want the workers of my Chile to forget this decision.”

Despite their ordeal and brief international fame, most of the miners continue to have economic problems and some are still undergoing psychological treatment to deal with the aftermath of their experiences.

Collectively, they have filed a civil lawsuit against the owners of the mine demanding $500,000 each. Some of the miners are unemployed and are surviving on the $13,000 they each received for the film rights to their stories. Chilean millionaire Leonardo Farkas also donated $10,000 to each of the miners.

At the same time, the state has ordered the owners of the mine to pay $5 million to cover the costs of the rescue, an effort that brought in experts from private organizations and international agencies, including NASA.

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