WHEN disaster struck 33 Chilean miners in August last year, the group’s spiritual leader Jose Henriquez held onto a distinct feeling that the group was going to be saved.
The 55-year-old preacher quickly became a key member of the team which remained trapped underground in a terrifying ordeal that lasted for a record 69 days - as the world waited to see if they would ever emerge from the darkness.
As millions watched and waited for the miners to be rescued, Mr Henriquez led the group in daily prayer in the hope they would finally escape from the exploded mineshaft 700 metres underground in Copiapo.
On Friday, Mr Henriquez, who is now touring Britain as a Christian missionary, came to Kirkby to talk about his extraordinary experience which finally ended when the successful rescue operation was completed on 13th October when he was reunited with his wife Blanca.
Hundreds of people, including many ex-miners from pits across Nottinghamshire, gathered at East Kirkby Miners’ Welfare to hear his inspiring story.
“The first 17 days were the most difficult and the most complicated,” said Mr Henriquez, holding a small Bible.
“When the mine collapsed, we immediately realised there was no escape but we had to organise ourselves into a survival committee and take stock.”
The miners were left with no lighting apart from their lanterns, while the air pipes were also destroyed by the explosion.
“An immediate problem was hunger, we had to organise how much food and water we had and how long it would last - we rationed ourselves by eating half a teaspoon of tuna a day and fasted for days to stretch our rations out,” he added.
Other miners turned to Mr Henriquez who led them in prayer each day helping them to remain hopeful of a miracle.
“I told them I want you to pray to a god I pray to - a living god so we all lay on the floor with our faces down in the dirt, humbled ourselves before the living god who is able to do everything - someone who could walk through walls and be there in the mine,” he added.
“But when we felt we had lost everything, I was able to say we have not lost prayer and twice a day we held prayer services where each miner could pray and open their hearts up.
“A fellowship was born between us as we waited for a miracle and when that miracle came there was a collective, joyful celebration, we all went crazy with celebration.
“The miners realised how precious their families were to them and five of them, when they came out of the mine, got married to their partners.”
Mr Henriquez was the 24th man to be rescued where he was reunited with his wife Blanca.
The visit was particularly poignant for Skegby resident George Atterby (82) who survived the Sutton Colliery mining disaster of 1957 which killed five miners and injured many others including himself.
“It is wonderful to meet this man and a privilege to be here and listen to his story,” he said.
The visit is part of the 34th man tour, which is named after the 33 miners feeling God’s presence.