Chilean health officials are seeking advice from Nasa on how the 33 miners trapped underground can remain sane and healthy while rescue efforts continue.
The men appear to be healthy and optimistic but are likely to be confined in a tiny shelter 688 metres underground for up to four months while relief crews bore an extraction shaft.
According to officials at the Chilean health ministry, conditions in the chamber are similar to those faced by submarine crews or astronauts on the International Space Station.
Rescue workers have now started delivering food, water and oxygen to the trapped men, and a communications system has been installed. The first package contained rehydration tablets and a high-energy glucose gel to help the miners’ digestive systems.
Meanwhile, doctors and psychological experts are trying to safeguard the miners’ mental wellbeing by keeping them informed and busy.
“They need to understand what we know up here at the surface, that it will take many weeks for them to reach the light,” the health minister, Jaime Manalich, said.
Lesley Peekman-Kerr, a specialist in psychological trauma, said the Chilean rescue workers appeared to be doing all they could to support the men.
“They are ensuring regular contact with loved ones and providing information to the miners.”
But Peekman-Kerr warned that the emergency teams would have to break the news to the men — as gently as possible — that it would take a long time for them to be rescued.
“The rescuers need to get the men into the frame of mind that it’s going to be protracted. If they tell the trapped men something false in an effort to comfort them, then trust will be broken and it is vital that the men trust completely what they’re being told,” she said.
Peekman-Kerr said it was important to establish a routine and to break time into chunks — for example, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other activities to help fill the time could include games, exercises, cleaning and contact with relatives on the surface.
“When your mind is focused and occupied there is a feedback loop that calms our mental systems,” she said, adding that exercise was key as it used excess energy, preventing it from being transformed into aggression.
Peekman-Kerr said that she would expect the rescue teams to draw up a profile for each man underground in an attempt to determine their strengths and to see what might cause problems.
The miners have reported that a shift foreman named Luis Urzúa has assumed leadership of the trapped men.
“Their obvious strength is that they are used to being underground, they seem quite resourceful and to be quite tough men,” she said. “Most people are more resilient then they believe they are. It’s quite amazing how people afterwards say, ‘I’m pleased what it’s taught me about myself.'”
Peekman-Kerr warned that the biggest adjustment would come if or when the men were rescued.
“When it’s finished, that will be the most difficult time,” she said. “People who’ve been kidnapped, for example, who have been separated from the real world, can find themselves overwhelmed, dealing with information overload and with delighted people welcoming them back to family life.” – guardian.co.uk