Emotions run deep over a near disaster

Two years after the emotional rescue of 33 trapped Chilean miners, Chilean ambassador to Australia Pedro Pablo Diaz still cries when he recalls the moment the final man was brought to the surface and the world heaved a sigh of relief.

And it is because of Mr Diaz and the role Australia played in the rescue that Canberra now holds two of the most significant reminders of the miners' incredible liberation from depths of the earth.

A direct copy of the note the miners sent up on a drill bit - their first communication 17 days after the mine collapse and the first precious confirmation they were all alive - is in the hands of Mr Diaz, a close friend of Chilean president Sebastian Pinera, who sent the document to him.

A copy of the scrappy bit of paper with the words ''Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33'' (''We are well in the shelter, the 33'') is now framed and has pride of place in the Chilean embassy in O'Malley. The words became a rallying cry for the nation and appeared on everything from coffee cups to T-shirts.

It was an Australian-directed drilling crew, including West Australian drilling consultant Kelvin Brown, which penetrated the cavern to reach the men on that 17th day and brought the original note to the surface.

One of seven capsules that was built to bring the men to the surface 69 days after their ordeal began also stands in Canberra's City West in Latin American Plaza, largely unnoticed by the lunchtime crowds.

The capsule was sent through the earth as a test but did not carry any of the men the 622-metre distance to the surface. The one that did is at the San Jose mine site in the Atacama Desert. Others are in Canada, in a museum in Chile, and one is on a constant tour.

Mr Diaz asked the Chilean President for one of the capsules specifically to stand in the Latin American Plaza, a space dedicated in 2010 at the insistence of then chief minister Jon Stanhope to celebrate Latin American culture and host South American art and events for the local community.

It was dedicated in September by Mr Pinera during a whirlwind two-day visit to Australia but the ceremony went unreported. ActewAGL chairman John Mackay subsequently played a round of golf with the ambassador and after being told about the capsule thought it deserved more attention.

''Australia was a very, very important part of the rescue,'' Mr Diaz said.

The ambassador had been instrumental in calling his contacts in the mining industry soon after he watched the horrific news of the mine collapse on television one morning in August 2010.

''Australia is a mining country too,'' he said.

His first call was to Austmine chairman Alan Broome and through that company, which specialises in mining equipment, contact was made to the experts who had helped in the Beaconsfield rescue in 2006.

''I called him and said, 'My friend, can you help us?','' Mr Diaz said of that crucial call to Mr Broome.

Last Sunday was the second anniversary of the rescue and the ambassador shed tears as he recalled the emotion of that time.

''It was something really fantastic for the world. For the dignity of the human being. For the dignity of the workers,'' he said.

Mr Diaz, a former Coca-Cola vice-president for Latin America who has embraced Australia, said he would never forget the pride he felt hearing Mr Pinera after the rescue ''thanking Australia and the United States - and in that order''.

''When I saw the Australian flags flying on Chilean television I remember calling the Australian ambassador in Chile and saying, 'We have to see it full of Australian flags because Australia was very important for us,'' he said.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop