Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Concern for trapped miners' sanity

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera holds a plastic bag containing a message from miners trapped in a collapsed mine
Relatives of miners trapped in a collapsed mine cheer after a drill machine being used in the rescue effort reaches the depth where they are trapped

The biggest challenge for the 33 miners found alive after 17 days trapped deep underground in Chile may be preserving their sanity during the months it will take to dig them out, an expert has warned.

For their families above ground, euphoria and more anxiety meant for a sleepless night at the realisation that the miners may be stuck until Christmas.

An intense rescue effort finally reached the miners in the Atacama desert after weeks of mistakes, new cave-ins and other false starts.

Now the plan is to carve a wider tunnel, just big enough for the men to be pulled out one by one. That equipment works much more slowly than the bore that drilled the 15-cms-wide shaft used to make first contact.

The drill broke through 2,257ft of rock to reach the emergency refuge where the miners have gathered. The trapped men quickly tied two notes to the end of a probe that rescuers pulled to the surface, announcing in big red letters: "All 33 of us are fine in the shelter."

"Today all of Chile is crying with excitement and joy," President Sebastian Pinera said at the mine.

The miners' survival after 17 days is very unusual, but since they have made it this far, they should emerge physically fine, said Davitt McAteer, an American mine safety expert.

"The health risks in a copper and gold mine are pretty small if you have air, food and water," he said.

However the stress of being trapped underground for a long period of time can be significant.

"There is a psychological pattern there that we've looked at," Mr McAteer said. But "they've established communication with the guys; there are people who can talk them through that."

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