Chilean Miners Await Rescue Mission

Sara Duplancic

“Estamos bien en el refugio los 33,” was the first written message from the Chilean miners who have been trapped half a mile underground since Aug. 5. Having been underground for almost two months, the 33 miners are now the longest-trapped miners in history.

A landslide obstructed a shaft into the gold and copper mine causing the roof to collapse, leaving all the miners without contact from the outside world for two weeks. The rescue mission that started on Aug. 31 may take four months. Keeping the men fed, healthy, and sane all remain concerns as the world anxiously awaits their rescue.

Seventeen days passed before rescuers drilled three four-inch diameter boreholes, through which the miners could communicate that they were all alive. When the roof collapsed, the miners evacuated to a 500-sq.-ft. space designated for refuge in case of disaster.

Before rescuers drilled the boreholes into what has now been deemed “Refuge 33,” the miners survived by rationing a 48-hour supply of tuna and biscuits and digging deeper underground for water. After the initial emergency supply ran out, the miners survived only on liquids, desperately looking forward to promised solid food which didn’t come until September.

The rescue mission, experts say, is well thought-out, and drill operators have the best possible equipment to get the meticulous job done safely. The Chilean government anticipates that the process will take three to four months, at the end of which the miners themselves will, by necessity, participate in removing falling rock. Then, a cage will haul up the 33 miners via a 2,300 ft. zigzag passage one at a time. The intricate process will take three hours per miner. Drill operators and experts expect technical problems along the way.

Chilean copper miners’ salaries often support entire families. Despite the danger cast on the miners and the trepidation that eclipses the thoughts of family members, San Esteban, the company that owns and operates the mine, announced that is has no money to pay the miners their wages or to engage in lawsuits. It is not even participating in the rescue. Codelco, a state-run mining company, has taken over the economics of the situation.

According to Time magazine, Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said the government was prohibited by labor laws from assuming responsibility for the salaries. He said it was up to the mining company and would have to be worked out in Chilean courts.

Meanwhile, NASA sent a four-person team to Chile to provide physical and behavioral health support to the miners. According to the Chilean government, five miners are suffering from depression. NASA has experience studying human behavior in isolated environments and is helping by providing counseling and anti-depressants to keep the miners sane.

Drill operators sent down a telephone through which miners communicated with their loved ones above. Keeping their spirits up and morale high is vital to their rescue as they will be active participants in it.
A video of the miners can be found on YouTube. Many miners broke down when speaking to loved ones, while the world marveled at their courageousness.

“I’m sending my greetings to Angelica. I love you so much, darling,” said 30-year-old Osman Araya in a video sent from below. As he began to choke up and cry he said, “tell my mother, I love you guys so much. I’ll never leave you. I will fight to the end to be with you.”