Imagine being confined to a small, dark and humid area more than 2,000 feet below the surface of the ground. Now imagine being there for months, with little food or water; only the uncertainty of how to get out.
This was reality for 33 miners, trapped from the collapse of a copper and gold mine near the Chilean city of Copiapo.
The incident occurred Aug. 5 after part of the San Jose mine collapsed. Unable to escape, the miners found their way to a designated safety area and two days worth of emergency food supplies. Among them, they managed to ration the food, stretching it to last two weeks.
It took 17 days for rescue workers to make contact with the trapped miners. Workers made small bore holes to communicate and send food, supplies and LED lights down to the miners.
The Chilean Navy, with the help of NASA engineers, used a high-tech capsule to bring miners one by one to the surface nearly 69 days after the initial collapse. The capsule was necessary to drill through the extremely hard copper and gold terrain. With all 33 miners being successfully brought back to the surface, it was the longest period of time in history anyone had spent trapped underground.
According to reports from the Associated Press, several preventative measures were taken to protect the miners as they were brought to the surface. Reports said NASA provided the miners with a liquid diet high in calories, which would prevent the miners from vomiting on the 20 minute, curving ride up to the surface. They were provided with compression socks as well as Asprin, to prevent any blood clots from forming, as well as dark glasses to protect their eyes from the exposure to light. The miners were closely monitored while riding in the capsule.
Although the rescue was historical in itself, the idea of being trapped in a small, dark area for such an extended period of time brings about questions of both psychological possibilities.
“For most people there would be issues of things like claustrophobia,” said Gary Brase, associate professor of psychology. “Given they were miners, they were to some extent prepared for those factors.”
Without training, social isolation can lead to psychological issues including depression, anxiety and memory impairment.
Brase said over the years there has been some research done regarding the effects of isolations, particularly by NASA.
“They have done studies where they keep people alone or in very small groups,” he said. “They found it’s difficult, but it’s possible.”
Brase said most extreme psychological effects the miners could have experienced would have occurred before they knew they had a chance of survival.
“If there was anything dramatic like that, it would have been before they were contacted, that changes it a lot,” he said.
He said after the miners were contacted, they would have had a more realistic idea that they would eventually get out.
The uncertainty of the event would be a possible factor in the decision making of the miners.
“When people thought they might die, that would probably lead to different decision making,” he said. “It changes the likelihood of the various outcomes, which would affect the decision-making process.”
According to Chilean officials, the miners were encouraged to play games, sing and engage in activities to keep their minds off of the monotony of the rescue efforts. This, along with hopeful letters from family members, was enough to keep the 33 miners alive and well as could be expected for their historical rescue.