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Small Business Plays Big Role in Saving “The 33” Chilean Miners
May 18, 2017 Elizabeth Thomas, Business Development Specialist, Office of Small Business

Imagine being trapped half a mile underground. Not knowing if anyone knew where you were. Not knowing if anybody knew you were alive. Not knowing if help was coming. This was the reality that 33 Chilean miners faced the afternoon August 5, 2010.

On August 22nd, 17 days after the collapse at the San Jose mine, the world received confirmation that the men were alive when a probe lowered into the mine through a 5 inch shaft returned with a note, “We are fine in the shelter, the 33 of us.”  Early estimates on the rescue, however, projected progress would be slow – bringing the miners out on December 25, 2010 - 4 months, 20 days and who knows how many hours after the cave in. Fortunately for the men and their loved ones, Christmas came early courtesy of a coordinated international effort in which Center Rock, a small business exporter in Berlin, Pennsylvania, played a pivotal role in saving 33 lives.

Upon hearing about the collapse at the San Jose mine, Brandon Fisher, founder of Center Rock, launched a campaign to persuade the Chilean government that their drilling technology could help rescue the miners. The challenge was that their innovative technology, known as downhole hammers, was not widely understood. “To tell you the truth, I don’t think anyone had a whole lot of faith in us,” said Brandon Fisher in an October 12, 2010, New York Times article.

Thankfully Center Rock became one of three simultaneous efforts to drill a shaft large enough to extract the men from the mine and on October 9th, 73 days ahead of schedule, Center Rock’s 26 inch Low Profile Drill was the first to reach the miners. “It was the greatest moment of my life when we broke into that mine ahead of time and knew that those 33 guys were going to come out alive,” said Richard Soppe, one of three Center Rock team members on-site at the mine.

Center Rock not only helped “The 33,” they are helping to improve the safety and efficiency of drilling operations by exporting a complete line of air powered hard rock drilling tools to international companies in the mining, construction and oil and gas markets around the world. Center Rock competes globally by offering their customers competitive credit terms while protecting their receivables on international sales with export credit insurance from EXIM through Global Insurance Services, LLC.

The Chileans were very thankful to Mr. Fisher and his team for persuading them to use Center Rock’s technology and on October 12th and 13th, Center Rock employees watched with pride as 33 miners were rescued flawlessly. EXIM Bank is proud to support companies like Center Rock, whose team, despite initial skepticism, had faith in their technology and faith in themselves.

Finally, this startling fact from the Center Rock website:

“33 Chilean miners, found to be alive in the 33rd week of the year, 33 days of drilling, rescued on 10/13/10, which equals 33 when added together.”

We also can’t overlook the 33 remarkable men whose patience and hope kept them alive. For me, 33 now also represents determination, cooperation and innovation. 

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