Eight years ago they were rescued, after a three-day ordeal, using the same method being used by engineers at the San Jose pit.
Sixty-one-year-old Tom Foy was one of nine rescued – it’s known as 9-4-9 as they all came out alive – and although he lives in Pennsylvania, his heart and mind are in Chile right now.
Miners are miners and we’re just like brothers you know what I’m saying.
In July 2002, Tom and eight colleagues were trapped when millions of litres of stagnant water flooded the mine shaft where they were working.
“We had to get back atop the belt that takes the coal out. Low crawl back up the belt and that belt was swaying back and forth like this with water running underneath it,” he said.
They were brought to the surface in the same type of cage engineers in Chile are using but eight years ago it was the first time it had been successfully used.
“All you could see was lights, people screaming and hollering and joy and stuff like that. I was so damn happy I just bawled like everybody else did.”
Tom never went down into the mines again and is now employed by a local firm that recently worked round-the-clock to produce the special heavy drilling-bits needed to help reach the Chilean miners.
At the site of Tom’s rescue at Quecreek, locals have paid for a monument as a tribute to the happy outcome and at the nearby museum tourists were delighted to see one of the nine miners in their midst.
But Tom has a warning for the Chilean miners and their families – they will be changed forever – some more than others. He says being trapped was worse than going to war.
“This was 10 times, a hundred times worse than Vietnam because there I wasn’t backed into a corner and no place to go.”
Tom told me that ABC TV News wanted to fly him to Chile to be a so-called “presenter’s friend” as the Chileans come out but he didn’t fancy the 24-hour flight, nor the remote location that is the San Jose mine.
So, he’s watching TV at home near Berlin, Pennsylvania as the Chilean miners come out aware that at 60-plus days their ordeal has lasted far longer than his own.