Chile miners trapped in ‘hell’ told of long rescue ordeal

Chilean officials on Wednesday broke the news to a desperate group of trapped miners that they could be stuck in their collapsed mine for months before being rescued.

“We were able to tell them … they would not be rescued before the Fiestas Patrias (Chile’s September 18 Independence Day celebrations), and that we hoped to get them out before Christmas,” Health Minister Jaime Manalich said.

He said the 33 men, trapped 700m below ground, took the information calmly, but he warned “a period of depression, anguish and severe malaise” could ensue.

Officials had been hiding the bleak information from the miners since they were discovered alive on Sunday in a shelter in the San Jose gold and copper mine more than two weeks after an August 5 collapse.

They feared the psychological impact it would have when the men contemplated the long ordeal ahead of them in a hot, dank shelter with their only lifeline a tiny hole to the surface providing sustenance, water and communication.

The news was delivered as the government prepared a special programme to help the miners cope mentally and physically with their prolonged captivity.

A priority of the plan was to get all the miners thin enough to squeeze through a narrow shaft about to be dug for their escape.

The tunnel, which could take four months to excavate, would measure just 66cm in diameter when it was complete — roughly the size of a bicycle wheel.

Desperate plea
Officials said they were careful in the way they presented the situation to the men, especially after they made a desperate plea late on Tuesday for early rescue.

“We are waiting for all of Chile to do everything to get us out of this hell,” group leader Luis Urzua told Chilean President Sebastian Pinera late on Tuesday through an intercom cable dropped to them.


“Mr President,” he said, “we need you to be strong and to rescue us as soon as possible. Don’t abandon us.”

Pinera vowed: “You won’t be left alone, nor have you been alone a single moment.”

At the time he avoided mentioning engineers’ estimates that a hydraulic bore about to be used to dig the escape shaft would need 120 days to complete the task.

The president later told reporters he was determined the men “will be with us for Christmas and New Year”.

Family members holding a vigil on the surface used an 8cm wide drill hole to the men to send written notes to buoy the men’s spirits.

The men, though famished, were in good physical condition, having survived on meagre rations and water trickling into their refuge before being found.

Manalich said the first stage of the preparation plan calls for the miners to receive “nutritional recuperation” and occupational therapy.

They had been sent chocolate and raspberry-flavoured milkshakes, which would be followed by solid food in about four days, when their metabolisms could cope, he said.

The miners are now getting four half-litre bottles of water and four boxes of crackers every half hour inside a metal cylinder, called a “dove”, that is lowered and raised by rope through the bore hole, rescue workers said.

Nasa offers to help
US space agency Nasa has said it was willing to advise on how to sustain the men, based on its long experience with keeping astronauts healthy during long, isolated missions.

Examinations of their urine, blood pressure and body temperatures would soon be carried out, and they had been told to split their living area — which included a tunnel about 1,5km long — into three zones: one for sleeping, one for working, and one for bodily waste. Tiny lamps would illuminate the space.

“Then they will start a daily exercise routine,” Manalich said.

The psychological aspect was being carefully looked at.

“The programme includes singing, games involving movement, card games, pencils and anything that they can use,” the minister said. — AFP

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Small towns not ready for level 3

Officials in Beaufort West, which is on a route that links the Cape with the rest of the country, are worried relaxed lockdown regulations mean residents are now at risk of contracting Covid-19
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday