Chilean Miner Exhibit Recounts 69 Days Of Drama

A year after the 33 Chilean miners began their world-famous saga trapped underground for 69 days, a new exhibit on their journey back to their loved ones opens this week in Washington, D.C. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang tours the exhibit with the director of the National Museum of Natural History.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This week marks the one-year anniversary of a gripping news story. August 5th, 2010, part of Chile's San Jose mine collapsed, trapping 33 miners underground for more than two months. A new exhibit about those world-famous Chilean miners and their eventual rescue has just opened in at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

And we sent NPR's Hansi Lo Wang to check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)

HANSI LO WANG: I'm standing here in the rotunda, where everyday thousands of visitors from the around the world come to see dinosaur fossils, the Hope Diamond, and now one of the original Fenix capsules used to rescue the most famous 33 miners from Chile.

CRISTIAN SAMPER: It's a pretty narrow fit.

LO WANG: That's Cristian Samper. He's the director of the National Museum of Natural History and one of the key organizers who helped to bring objects from the Chilean mine rescue to the Smithsonian. Samper is showing off one of the iconic red, white and blue metal rescue capsules that lifted the trapped miners from more than 2,000 feet below the Earth's surface.

SAMPER: You and I would have a hard to fitting in there probably.

LO WANG: I'd feel pretty claustrophobic.

SAMPER: You would. Especially, imagine going in there and taking a ride for nine minutes in this dark, humid condition.

LO WANG: The rescue capsule is the centerpiece of the exhibit. Nearby the Fenix capsule visitors gather in front of a television screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERS OF CHILE, CHI-CHI-CHI, LE-LE-LE.))

LO WANG: They're watching video of a crowd cheering after each of the miners was rescued.

This is the first time the miners' story has been told in a museum, and one of the few times the Smithsonian has created a bilingual exhibit.

SAMPER: Well, in English, it's "Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine." And in Spanish it's (Spanish language spoken).

LO WANG: Samper says it was important to tell the miners' story in their own language. And he says a good fit for a museum known for its extensive collection of gems, minerals and rocks.

SAMPER: What was so important about this story is that it brings together the geology with the human connection.

LO WANG: The connection was formed as people around the world watched and waited, hoping for a happy ending against all odds.

Hernan Palma of Silver Spring, Maryland, remembers watching it unfold on television with his family and friends.

HERNAN PALMA: Oh, it was a very emotional time for everybody. We were so happy. And you feel like you were united with everybody. So you're happy for everyone.

LO WANG: As for the miners, their sagas continue; each dealing with the trauma of the ordeal and the realities of becoming overnight celebrities. A year later, some have gone back to the mines. Others have gone on the lecture circuit. There's also a book deal, a movie deal, and lawsuits against the Chilean government and the mining company for dangerous working conditions.

The exhibit "Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine" is scheduled to run through the middle of next year.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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Correction Aug. 8, 2011

The previous headline and text for this story incorrectly said the miners had been trapped for 33 days instead of 69 days.

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