Case Closed: Chilean Mine Collapse

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(Photo Credit: MGN Online/Chilean Government)

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By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN

(CNN) — Who’s to blame for the mine collapse that trapped 33 workers underground for months in Chile?

No one, according to prosecutors, who closed the case Thursday after a lengthy investigation.

Nearly three years after the collapse at the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, prosecutors said, there’s not enough evidence to file criminal charges.

The decision comes nearly three years after the mining accident, which drew global attention as word spread that the workers had survived and rescuers worked for weeks to free them.

For 17 days after the mine collapsed, nobody knew if they were alive. The miners spent 69 days underground before they were rescued.

“This was a complicated case, which is why it took us so long to make this determination,” regional prosecutor Hector Mella Farias said. “And I want to be clear in saying that everything to collect evidence that the law allows was done.”

Authorities investigated the case for years, he said, compiling expert analysis and testimonies that totaled more than 20,000 pages.

Two outraged miners told CNN Chile late Thursday that they plan to appeal the regional prosecutor’s decision.

The owners of the mine should be held responsible in a criminal case, they said, alleging that the company knew there was a risk of collapse and didn’t do enough to protect workers. The miners have also filed a negligence lawsuit against the government, accusing the agency that oversees mining of failing to ensure safety measures.

“Today we heard the decision, as did many of our colleagues, and many of them are extremely shocked,” said Luis Urzua, the miners’ shift boss and the last man rescued from the mine. “Because this is something that places responsibility upon the mine owners, because they are the entity that must supervise what happens. As supervisors, they should have prevented it. They should have known what sectors were at risk of collapsing.”

The miners want future accidents to be prevented, he said, and they want the mine’s owners to be held accountable.

“We want for this never to happen again,” he said. “What happened to us was not a work of nature. This was done by a man, by the negligence of man.”

Attorneys for the mine’s owners told CNN Chile on Thursday that the prosecutor’s decision indicated that natural causes sparked the accident, and the company’s owners are not responsible.

“This decision wasn’t made on a whim,” said attorney Catherine Lathrop. “It is part of a long investigative process.”

Miner Juan Carlos Aguilar said the miners aren’t looking for money, but they do want justice. And comments like Lathrop’s, he said, show that they haven’t gotten that yet.

“She is laughing at what happened to us,” he said. “I think any miner is going to feel the same way. If they did nothing for us, when we were trapped for 70 days 700 meters underground, what is going to happen when there’s another incident?. … Any person can do anything in Chile, and there is no justice.”

–CNN’s Samuel Santamaria and Rafael Romo contributed to this report.

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