“That’s my dad,” says Mitchel Rojas Contreras as he points to the image of a grey-haired man with green eyes.
“That picture’s couple of years old.”
“The photo is one of thirty-three faces printed on a billboard-size banner. The banner hangs just outside the canteen at Camp Hope, the tent city that has popped up at gates of the San Jose Mine, in the sand dunes of the northern Chilean desert.
The trapped miners’ families and more than a thousand journalists from around the world have descended here to witness history. Never before have miners been trapped so far underground, for so long, and survived.
It’s been over two months since Mitchel has seen his father, Pablo Rojas. The Chilean miner was buried underground on August 5th when the mine imploded.
Since then, nothing’s been the same for 21-year-old Mitchel.
“I’ve had to take this semester off,” he says, “I’ve had to assume responsibilities that I shouldn’t have to at my age. I’ve had to take care of administrative tasks…I’ve had to try to be my father up here [above ground].”
Mitchel’s had to become the man of the family not because the eldest child, but because he’s the only child.
“He’s more than a father, he’s a friend,” Mitchel says. “As an only child, the relationship you have with your mother and father is more than parental, it’s much closer.”
But Mitchel says he will see his father and friend again soon. Rescuers have drilled an escape tunnel to the miners’ emergency shelter. They’ve even tested out the rescue capsule, dubbed the Pheonix I, which will be lowered into the shaft and bring each miner up. During yesterday’s trial run, engineers lowered the capsule about 2000 feet down the shaft, roughly 46 feet shy of the miners’ den.
When asked why the capsule wasn’t lowered all the way down the tunnel, Chile’s Mining Minister Laurence Golborne ignited laughs from the audience of reporters.
“They didn’t want one of the miners to jump in,” he said.
They’re not ready for the rescue attempt quite yet. While Golborne assured reporters that the rescue team wants as quick a rescue as anyone, they must move at a pace that’s safe.
Mitchel is patient.
“Its been more than two months,” he says. “What’s a couple more days.”
The past two months have seemed like years to him. Over this time, he’s been able to speak to his father every Sunday on a phone line that’s been fed to the underground chamber.
“He always says ‘I’m good, I’m good, I’m almost going to be out, stay calm,’” says Mitchel. “He tells me that he’s heard that I’m doing great things and that he’s proud of me. And I tell him, ‘I’m proud of you too dad.’”
These conversations are what keep Mitchel going. He doesn’t have to wait much longer. What was expected to be a Christmas rescue is now just hours away. In his head, he’s already planned what he will do when his father emerges from the underground purgatory.
“I’m going to give him the longest hug of my life.”