Discipline And Dedication: Keys To Excellence
By Dialogo October 01, 2011
Lieutenant Junior Grade Roberto Ríos Seguel of the Chilean Navy was one of the first rescue workers to descend into the San Jose mine to aid 33 miners trapped for more than two months in 2010. The eyes of the world watched the plight of “the 33,” as medical and military personnel went underground to rescue them. Diálogo spoke with Lt. j.g. Roberto Ríos Seguel about what it meant to be part of the largest rescue operation in the history of mining.
On August 5, 2010, a tunnel collapsed in the San Jose copper mine, located in the Atacama region of northern Chile, causing a landslide that buried 33 miners more than 600 meters underground. It would be 69 days before they were all above ground again.
Lieutenant junior grade Roberto Ríos Seguel, a Chilean Navy officer with medical training and trauma experience in unconventional locations, was selected to be part of the rescue group that would descend to the depths of the mine and rescue “the 33.”
“No one knew for sure what kind of situation we were going to find there, and as I always say, we were preparing for the worst, hoping for the best,” said Lt. j.g. Ríos Seguel. “It’s very difficult to summarize the rescue in a few lines,” he said, recalling the event that attracted unprecedented worldwide media attention. It culminated on October 13, when the last of the 33 miners reached the surface. “I was very much motivated by the leadership ability and teamwork demonstrated by the naval officers and seamen who made up the 33 Naval Task Force,” he said, referring to the team assigned to carry out the rescue.
Lt. j.g. Ríos Seguel followed the first rescue worker into the mine to begin the difficult task of monitoring the injured during the rescue. His main task was to check the miners’ blood pressure and circulation as the men were hoisted to the surface. He said it “was not an easy task, due to the distances that had to be covered inside the mine, the high temperatures and the humidity, which did not fall below 32° C and 90 percent, respectively.”
Days passed before the rescue team could even begin the mission, but Lt. j.g. Ríos Seguel was ready when duty called. “As of today, I’ve been in the Navy for almost 20 years, more than half my life, training to defend my country in case of need, and I was ready to do something for it,” he said. “I swore to give my life for my country ... the miners were my country at that moment.”
Lt. j.g. Ríos Seguel began his military education at the age of 15 at the School for Naval Recruits. He continued with a course in tactical diving at the School for Sailor Candidates, where he strengthened his values and ideals. He complemented this training with medical courses in nursing and anesthesia clinical support and more specialized courses, such as pre-hospital trauma life support and combat casualties care, distinguishing himself from his peers and later becoming an instructor.
No efforts or resources were spared in preparing for the rescue mission. Human-size steel capsules were specially made to lower into the mine to rescue one worker at a time. Lt. j.g. Ríos Seguel stressed that the tunnel and the capsules were very narrow but well-made by the Chilean Navy’s shipyards and arsenals. “The capsules had good mechanics, were well thought out, and the idea of the upper and lower wheels, among other things, was phenomenal, since they adapted to any surface,” he emphasized.
In the first 50 meters of his descent, Lt. j.g. Ríos Seguel was already completely soaked. “I was sweating a whole lot, and the water was visible when it ran along the tunnel walls,” he remembered. As members of the rescue team arrived at the miners’ chamber, they immediately provided nursing care and continued until all the miners were safely back on the surface.
When Diálogo spoke with Lt. j.g. Ríos Seguel about his participation in the rescue, he recalled transcendental moments: “When the capsule began to descend, my anxiety was transformed into tranquility and absolute happiness, because I knew that now it was time to fulfill the task we had been given.”
What stood out in his mind, however, was the happiness on the face of the son of Florencio Ávalos – the first miner to be rescued. “It was a very strong and motivational feeling. His face showed everything: anguish, happiness, impatience ... it was a mix of feelings, difficult to express,” he recalled. After a pause, he added, “All of that meant that risking my life by descending into the depths of the mine was absolutely worth it.”
After almost 24 hours underground and practically 48 hours without sleep, Lt. j.g. Ríos Seguel was able to return to the surface with his team. With the satisfaction of a duty fulfilled and great happiness, he said, “Mission accomplished, Chile.”