The rescue of the trapped Chilean miners buried deep in the Atacama desert should begin in mid-October 2010.
As engineers were taking final pressured decisions about whether to delay the rescue by lining the entire rescue shaft or risk going ahead with partial lining, the miners must have been experiencing pressures immeasurably greater.
For one thing they are all suffering, after two months below ground, from medical conditions related to anxiety, humidity and poor air quality. All the miners have dental problems. Because of the dirt, dust and humidity many also have skin ailments ranging from acne and eczema to boils and psoriasis. The air underground has caused respiratory problems for several of the men. Understandably, some of the miners have suffered depression and one man is said to have developed claustrophobia and panic attacks.
Then there’s, inevitably, worry about the rescue operation itself. Being hauled to the surface one by one in a narrow, claustrophobic capsule would be bad enough. But they also have to worry about rocks falling on them as they ascend and, worse, the risk of being trapped in the rescue shaft by possible rockfalls above and below the capsule. The Chilean authorities and medical team involved in the rescue will sedate any miner who requires sedation during the rescue. Although the miners were jubilant when the drill broke through into their undergound prison and clearly want to get on with the rescue operation, they are also bound to experience some fear of getting jammed in the rescue shaft during the ascent.
They must also have incredibly mixed feelings, expectations and apprehensions about emerging from their ordeal in the collapsed San Jose mine. It will have become clear to them that their lives will never be the same again.
Clearly, they will never return to mining. Newspapers and television channels have already made offers for the miners’ stories. Publishers are set to chase each miner, offering book deals. Chilean PR companies want to sign the men up to promote ‘relevant’ products, such as power drills and vitamin supplements. A local businessmen has already given thousands of dollars to each man’s family. Corporate sponsors will want to get the miners to endorse their products. There are movie deals in the offing.
On a personal level, several have already made it known that they intend to divorce their wives once they are rescued. Two married miners have been revealed as having mistresses. One has proposed marriage to his girlfriend while trapped underground. Another, young miner Ariel Ticona, will emerge from the rescue shaft to see his newborn baby for the first time.
All of this will turn the miners’ lives upside down.
And then there’s the possibility of post-traumatic syndrome and other mental health problems. How difficult will it be to readjust to life on the surface? – especially when they are likely to emerge from seclusion into the middle of a worldwide media circus. What nightmares from the underground ordeal will re-occur?
On top of all this the miners have a legal case to fight against mine owners, the San Esteban group.
One extraordinary and ironic outcome of the miners’ ordeal and the rescue operation is that, in the course of drilling the rescue shaft, the engineers from government-owned mining company Codelco have discovered huge seams of previously undiscovered gold, silver and copper.
The Chilean government have plans to re-open the collapsed San Jose mine and use Codelco to extract the metals. Which raises the bizarre prospect of Chilean miners once again venturing into the ill-fated mine in the Atacama Desert.