Chilean miners getting hot meals – and Brad Pitt

September 29, 2010 · Print This Article

chile-flagBy Vivian Sequera


More offbeat news

SAN JOSE MINE, Chile – They get laundry service, TV, three hot meals a day and even ice cream for dessert. Everyday life for the 33 miners trapped a half-mile underground now includes some comforts of home – at least those that can be lowered through narrow holes.

The miners sleep on cots that were sent down in pieces and reassembled, and each can look forward every weekend to eight minutes of video chat time with his family, using compact cameras and a phone that was disassembled to fit through the hole.

Settling in for the long wait until they’re pulled out, they have established a disciplined routine designed to keep them mentally and physically fit – and working together.

The plan, said the rescue effort’s lead psychiatrist, Alberto Iturra Benavides, is to leave them with “no possible alternative but to survive” until drillers finish rescue holes, which the government estimates will be done by early November.

“Surviving means discipline, and keeping to a routine,” Iturra said.

So when the miners get moments to relax, they can watch television – 13 hours a day, mostly news shows and action movies or comedies, whatever is available that the support team decides won’t be depressing. They’ve seen Troy and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with Brad Pitt and Jim Carrey’s The Mask. But no intense dramas: “That would be mental cruelty,” Iturra said.

The news is reviewed first by the team above, said Luis Felipe Mujica, general manager of Micomo, the telecommunication subsidiary of Chile’s state-owned Codelco mining company.

Personal music players with headphones and handheld video games have been ruled out, because those tend to isolate people from one another.

“With earphones, if they’re listening to music and someone calls them, asking for help or to warn them about something, they’re not available,” Iturra said.

Togetherness is what initially saved the miners when an estimated 700,000 tons of rock collapsed Aug. 5 and sealed off the central section of the mine shaft above them, plunging them into darkness.

The collapse occurred just as the men gathered for lunch in the refuge – a space about 12 feet by 12 feet with a fortified ceiling nearly 15 feet high.

When the dust settled about five days later, they could see they were trapped in a large open space, about 1,200 feet long, that runs up the corkscrew-shape shaft to another workshop about 2,000 feet underground. The space had mining vehicles with battery and engine power, a chemical toilet and industrial water, which together with their meager emergency food supply enabled them to survive.

“They were 17 days in the darkness – 17 days during which in the first five days they could barely breathe from the dust,” Iturra said. “And then they had to say, ‘I didn’t die’ – this in itself stops you from being frightened.”

Since Aug. 22, when a bore hole reached the miners, their rescue and support team has grown to more than 300 people. It includes communication experts, doctors, psychologists, launderers and cooks in addition to drillers.

Iturra said the miners have taken it upon themselves to solve their problems through hard work.

Divided into three groups of 11, they sleep in three separate areas, work in three shifts to remove rock loosened during drilling of rescue holes, attend to the holes through which supplies arrive, and share lunch at noon to maintain unity.


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