Luis Urzua entered the San Jose mine last August as a shift supervisor, intending to command his miners for about 12 hours. Sixty-nine days after a collapse trapped him and 32 others, he’s left as the man whose direction helped keep the group alive.
Urzua, 54, was the last of the 33 miners to be taken out of the mine in a rescue capsule, about a day after the first was rescued. He volunteered to stay in the miners' refuge 2,300 below the surface until all his men were safe.
As shift foreman, Urzua assumed command and control of the underground world that he and 32 fellow miners lived in since the collapse. His instructions to his men in the hours after the collapse - among them, to ration the little food and liquid that they had in a small refuge - are credited with keeping the group alive during the 17 days it took for rescuers to locate them with a probe and start sending them supplies.
He also kept the miners on 12-hour shifts and mapped out the area that was still accessible, dividing the space into work, sleep and sanitary areas, the Guardian newspaper reported.
"[He] is a leader in his field and has been for ages," Dr. Andreas llarena of the Chilean navy told the Guardian in September. "For a miner, their shift leader is sacred and holy. They would never think about replacing him. That is carved in stone - it is one of the commandments in the life of a miner."
Urzua told the Guardian for a story a few days ago that each miner played a part to keep the group functioning while it awaited rescue.
"We had to be strong, all the workers in the mine fulfilled their roles, as journalists, as spokesmen, and we worked hard for our own rescue," Urzua said.
His voice was the first that rescuers heard after verbal contact was made with the trapped miners in August. “We are well and hoping that you will rescue us," he said.
On Wednesday night with the entire world watching, his wish came true.