Chileans Deny Book's Claims about Miners' Rescue

February 14, 2011 - 4:37 PM

Santiago, Chile (AP) - Chileans directly involved in saving 33 trapped miners last year rejected claims on Monday that the men seriously considered suicide and cannibalism, or that the government fooled the world by transmitting previously videotaped scenes to cover up a potential disaster during the rescue.

Reinaldo Sepulveda, who directed the live television feed that broadcast images of the rescue around the world, told The Associated Press that there was never any attempt to hide what was going on by repeating parts of the feed, as Jonathan Franklin alleges in his book, "33 Men." The book claims that at one point, a cable was cut by a rockslide, and previously broadcast images were transmitted to cover it up.

"A billion viewers around the world were ... tricked," Franklin wrote.

"This is absolutely false. I can show you the 38 or 40 hours of transmission - they were never cut," Sepulveda told the AP. "I guarantee that everything was live and direct. ... the transmission was never cut, never."

It is true that at one point early in the rescue, Chilean engineers worked furiously to dismantle a fiber optic cable that they had planned to use with the rescue capsule so that the miners could communicate during their half-mile journey to the surface.

The delay wasn't immediately explained at the time, but rescue workers later said the communications system added unnecessary complexity to the rescue, and that the miners didn't want it.

Omar Reygadas, one of the rescued miners, added another detail on Monday - he told the AP that a rock slide had cut the fiber optic cable just before he was pulled out - and that this is why his entrance to the capsule wasn't filmed.

Reygadas also denied in an AP telephone interview that any of the miners had considered suicide or cannibalism while stuck down below - dismissing both ideas as examples of Chilean dark humor - which is particularly apparent in extreme situations - that shouldn't have been taken seriously.

"We didn't reach that extreme," Reygadas said.

A fellow miner, Victor Zamora, told the CBS "60 Minutes" show that during the first 17 days after the mine collapsed, before they were discovered alive, they had considered closing themselves in with a running engine so they could die peacefully of carbon monoxide poisoning.

But Reygadas said "I never thought about or talked about that," and said Zamora was probably joking.

"You can't tell when Victor speaks seriously or is joking. It's the first time I've heard of it," Reygadas said.

Mario Sepulveda, a miner who thrilled the world with ecstatic reaction on reaching the surface, was much more somber on "60 Minutes," saying that "with or without food I was getting out of there. I had to think about which miner would collapse first, and there began the idea of how I would eat him. I wasn't ashamed, I wasn't afraid," he said.

"That, yes, I heard, but it was a joke," Reygadas said.