Just before the mine cave-in on August 5, Jorge Galeguillos was riding a pickup truck down into the mine with friend and former soccer star Franklin Lobos.
Suddenly, a rock slab caved in just behind them. Immediately ahead, Galeguillos wrote later in a letter to his brother, “I saw a white butterfly." Despite the rock falling behind them, the two men slowed their truck momentarily out of curiosity over the insect.
Then, within seconds of that braking of the truck came a furious, blinding avalanche as the tunnel began collapsing.
Immediately, a gigantic slab of rock fell down and blocked the way back up the shaft. That also set off other cave-ins below them.
When the dust cleared, Lobos and Galeguillos, fighting for their lives, resumed their downward drive through what was left of the crumbling shaft, dodging fallen rocks. Eventually they were able to reach 31 fellow miners who had fled to a 50-square-meter refuge on Level 100, more than a half-mile underground.
The surviving miners remain entombed to this day as rescuers seek to construct a new shaft to free them. Meanwhile, anxious loved ones wait on the surface in a makeshift tent city called “Camp Hope.”
From his subterranean refuge, Jorge eventually wrote a letter about the butterfly and his harrowing escape from death, a letter that was hoisted up to the surface to his brother, Eleodoro, who is at a loss to explain how a tiny white butterfly managed to get about 1,500 feet below the surface.
"In the countryside, our grandfathers, who were peasant farmers, knew it was a good omen to come across a white animal in the dark of night," Eleodoro was quoted by CNN as saying.
"Down in the mine, I don't really know what that butterfly was. Maybe it was a little angel passing in front of them, or a little god saying, 'Hurry up, there's danger down here.
“They were saved by the skin of their teeth. The cave-in was going on above and below them. It was already burying things all along the tunnel," explained Galleguillos, who is certain that the butterfly protected the desperate pair as they fled for their lives toward the refuge where other miners had taken shelter.
Mining consultant and rescue expert Miguel Fortt explained that small white butterflies do flutter around certain purple flowers blooming for only few hours in the Atacama desert at certain times of year. But the nearest patch of such flowers is more than a mile from the mine. And Fortt adds that it would be extremely unlikely that a butterfly would flit its way 1,500 feet deep into a mine.
Searching for logic to explain the butterfly, Fortt allowed that it could have been sucked into the mine's ventilation chimney in a downdraft induced by the sudden collapse. However, he didn’t appear convinced by this theory to his interviewer.
Whether it was help from the beyond or a logical coincidence, Fort said the butterfly did in fact save the two miners’ lives, because they slowed their truck to get a better look at it. And that hesitation prevented them from being under the first extensive rockslide a few seconds later.
Galeguillos' letter about the butterfly has brought tears to the eyes of the miners’ loved ones who are still waiting anxiously on the surface as a weeks-long rescue operation seeks to free the workers from their rock prison almost a half mile underground.
Warming themselves around campfires, the families continue to pass along the story of white butterfly that they believe is really a guardian angel.