Ten years ago, the world was glued to their televisions watching the dramatic rescue of Chilean mine workers. This group of 33 men had been stuck 2,300 feet underground from August 5, 2010 to October 13, 2010 – they survived 69 days with limited resources and without access to the outside world.
On August 5, 2010, miners were working within a mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert when a huge explosion blocked the passageways. When the miners were able to explore the damage, they found the explosion was actually a huge block of stone , as tall as a 45-story building and weighing 770,000 tons, that had fallen from the mountain and into the mine. This mega-block of stone blocked any way in and any way out of the mine, making escape and rescue nearly impossible.
The 33 trapped men quickly realized there was no way out and the situation is dire. It is possible they will never be rescued and may be buried alive or die of starvation. Ultimately, it would be 17 days before they made contact with anyone on the surface and another 52 days for the rescue operation. When they were rescued, all 33 were alive and almost all were in good condition (a few had to have medical attention for pneumonia and dental infections).
A major reason the world was drawn to the Chilean mining accident story was their amazing survival mindset. The 33 men decided early on that they would survive. Then, the group of men put every survival skill they learned into practice to make it out alive. While we may not face the same type of extreme situation, their experience can teach us how to survive any type of disaster.
Organized their days and survival habitat
Luis Urzúa, the 54-year-old shift supervisor (pictured on left), is credited with leading the group towards a survival mindset. Upon realizing they would be stuck underground for possibly a lengthy period, he organized systems that were necessary for their survival. In addition to creating a food rationing system, he organized their days and their habitat.
As a natural leader, he took charge. He organized their underground habitat into different areas for sleeping, working, and disposing of waste. He organized a schedule for the men. He even used his truck underground to function as a makeshift office and used its lights to simulate daytime and nighttime.
Regulated food intake
In the first hours of their entrapment, the leaders in the group emphasized the importance of regulating food intake. They understood that they may have to subsist on whatever food was in the emergency cabinet for a lengthy amount of time. According to Readers Digest, “[Mario] Sepúlveda leads a tally of what [was] inside the emergency cabinet—cans of peaches, peas, and tuna, along with 24 liters of condensed milk and 93 packages of cookies.”
By rationing this amount of food, they avoided having anyone starve to death. They managed to stretch what was only intended to be emergency rations for 2-3 days to two weeks until they made contact with the surface. Alonso Soto for World News explains, “They rationed their provisions, eating two mouthfuls of tuna and drinking half a glass of milk every 48 hours. Health officials estimate they may have lost about 17.5 to 20 pounds (8 to 9 kg) each.”
Resourceful with water
Additionally, they avoid having anyone dehydrate with their resourcefulness. According to Readers Digest, “There are several thousand liters of water in nearby tanks, to keep the engines cool. The water is tainted with small amounts of oil, but it is still drinkable.” In addition to sourcing water from the vehicle radiators, the men also dug to find sources of underground water.
Utilized first aid
When the miners made contact with the surface, they recorded videos of their survival habitat. One of the highlights was their first aid box that included rubbing alcohol. Britannica explains, “Some of the men developed fungal infections due to the high humidity and 95 °F (35 °C) heat, and some suffered eye and respiratory problems, but the miners were otherwise unscathed.” Having basic first aid supplies proved to be helpful.
Found ways to move and play
With no end in sight, the men recognized they needed to exercise. They made a point to walk and move around the 1.2 miles of galleries underground. In addition, they also took the time to play games, beginning with making a checkerboard and pieces from a piece of cardboard. Once they made contact with the outside world, they received videos of sports games to view, cards, dice, and music players.
Created a democracy and worked together
When trapped underground for 69 days, the men could have easily turned on one another. This story could have been more Lord of the Flies than an amazing story of survival. The London Daily Telegraph quotes Mario Sepúlveda as saying, “All 33 trapped miners, practicing a one-man, one-vote democracy, worked together to maintain the mine, look for escape routes and keep up morale. We knew that if society broke down we would all be doomed.” They established a democracy and agreed to respect the majority vote on all decisions.
Patrick Kiger explains for Reuters, “The miners are as imperfect as the rest of us humans — they had arguments, tensions and even a few fistfights during their entombment. But for the most part, they found a way to work together. Foreman Urzua told the Post that the men were able to come together because they established a ‘democracy,’ where every issue was put up to a vote and everyone respected the result, even if it was 17-16.”
They all had a common goal – to survive. Sharing a common goal made it possible for the men to work together as a team and to encourage one another. Another way they worked together was by taking an oath of silence. They vowed never to reveal certain details of what occurred in the mine during their darkest days.
Ávalos, one of the miners, is quoted in Wikipedia saying, “As a group we had to keep faith, we had to keep hope, we had to all believe that we would survive.” When someone had a bad day, the others in the group encouraged him. They were determined to keep hope alive throughout the entire ordeal. Psychology Today notes, “Every day after lunch, the miners gathered for prayer. One of them created a makeshift chapel. An engineer managed to get 33 copies of the New Testament and two bibles sent to the men to attend to their ‘spiritual needs’. Each bible was personalized with the name of the miner and specific verses were tagged for hope.”
May their story of survival inspire you, friends.
In liberty, Elizabeth Anderson, Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply
Lynn’s notes: The Chilean Miners were rescued by people from all over the world. Read below about the contribution from an American. In this day and age when people are trashing one another all over the world, it’s good to reflect on the basic goodness people have for one another when they are not mentally programmed by media and others.
The Chilean Mine Rescue: A West Virginian’s View From Behind The Gates
February 10, 2011 By: Bill Maloney. For most of us, it’s easy to block out all the terrible news you hear everyday. For instance, I don’t even remember hearing about the August 5th mine collapse in Chile until August 23rd. I was vacationing with family in Cape May, NJ, and I was stunned when I came across a headline that announced that the miners trapped underground were still alive 17 days later. “Four months to drill a hole and rescue the miners—we hope to have them out before Christmas” is the statement from the Chilean mining company that the media had released.
The idea that it would take four months to extract the 33 miners trapped 2,100 feet below the earth’s surface was unfathomable to me. I tried to relax and enjoy my vacation with my family, but my thoughts were focused on a mine site in South America where both the men underground and their families on the surface had no choice but to wait 16 weeks to be reunited.
Early the next morning, I began making phone calls to colleagues from my involvement with the Underground Ventilation Committee of the Society of Mining Engineers, particularly Brian Prosser and Keith Wallace with Mine Ventilation Services. By the afternoon, Prosser had put me in contact with Jose Donoso of Global SKM, who in turn put me in contact with Raul Dagnino of Terra Services. Dagnino was the lead of Terracem JV, a Chilean and South African joint venture that had mobilized the Strata 900 Raise Drill. This raise drill later became known as Plan A. Wallace, who was at a mine site in Indonesia at the time, put me in touch with Codelco officials. I found myself exchanging e-mails with these mining professionals, finding the language barrier non-existent as we discussed things like proposed techniques, geology, mine layout, equipment and tooling.
While I had never been to Chile, I had spent my career drilling ventilation shafts mainly for coal mines in Appalachia and other U.S. coalfields, and I felt a bond with the trapped miners. I had founded North American Drillers in 1984, a company that started by drilling 24-inch holes for mine dewatering. Over the years, we grew into drilling up to 18-foot diameter shafts. We became Shaft Drillers International after acquiring Zeni Drilling in 2001, and I sold my interest in the companies in 2006. Growing restless from my absence in the mining industry, I used the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, in which 29 West Virginia miners were killed, as inspiration to found a new company. Drill Leader, LLC was formed in Morgantown with a foundation of 30 years of knowledge in specialty drilling. Having drilled several ventilation shafts at Upper Big Branch and its predecessor, Montcoal No. 7, over the years to prevent these types of horrific explosions from occurring, and with my background in using shafts for best ventilation practices, I felt my experience could continue to benefit the industry.
Initially, e-mails I exchanged with Donoso and Dagnino regarding rescue plans, which were referred to as Plan A, proved to be fruitful. Plan A consisted of drilling a 15-inch directional pilot hole on fluid and then downreaming to 28 inches with a raisebore cutterhead, compliments of Dagnino’s Strata 900 Raise Drill mobilized unit. Discussions were very open and frank. However, after suggesting alternative methods involving down the hole (DTH) hammers, I was told that the DTH hammers were considered unproven technology and needed further planning. During these discussions, I gained some knowledge of the local geology and mine conditions on-site, which was in the Atacama Desert, 40 miles from the nearest town of Copiapo. By Wednesday, August 25th, I had learned that Brandon Fisher, president of Center Rock Inc., a Pennsylvania-based drilling technology company, was simultaneously working on a plan to drill a hole more quickly. I had helped Fisher start his company in Morgantown in 1998 and was familiar with the DTH technologies he had developed. Like myself, he refused to believe that it would really take four months to drill a hole 2,100 feet into the earth to rescue the trapped miners.
Our Plan B was one of three rescue attempts approved by the Chilean Government. It required DTH technology—a heavy steel piston with a carbide and diamond impregnated bit that vibrates up to 1,500 times a minute and turns as it pounds. The technology was better suited than conventional drill bits to bore through the extremely hard, abrasive rock at the San Jose mine and to do so starting at an 11.5-degree angle.
I had known all along that I would end up in Chile, working to rescue those miners. After speaking and meeting with Fisher and Center Rock several times over the next week, I ended up in South America as a member of their team. Fisher, Richard Soppe and I flew to Chile together, and we were met by several drillers from Geotec who flew in from Afghanistan the following Wednesday.
We arrived at the mine site in Chile on September 4th, and timely planning and good fortune enabled us to begin drilling with DTH technology on September 5th. Center Rock had fabricated the drilling equipment required for Plan B in days instead of the weeks usually required due to the specialized parts that are made per individual project requirements.
A Chilean drill team had already drilled 5.5-inch holes into the ground to enable air and supplies to reach the trapped miners. The Plan B team had to ream, or enlarge, a similar hole twice—first to 12 inches with a DTH hammer to achieve stability and allow cuttings to fall into the mine opening, and then to 28 inches using an LP drill with four hammers in a barrel reamer assembly. Despite setbacks, things came together overall during the operation: 1,000 additional feet of 7-inch drillpipe were manufactured and delivered to the site in a week; the LP drills were shipped directly to the site by UPS for free and the Chilean Air Force flew in parts just in time to allow for a coring tool to be used.
Our team hit a snag at a depth of about 800 feet when its 12-inch DTH hammer struck a support bolt from a nearby mine ramp, causing a bit to shear off. It took a week to fish the pieces of broken bit out of the hole with various fishing tools before the team could resume drilling.
No one had ever tried an LP drill like ours at the angle we encountered for the distance we had to go. The rock in the top of the hole was fractured and unstable. It was really tricky to keep the reamer inside the 12-inch hole, and gravity was working against us the entire way.
After working out the kinks, the team reached peak boring speeds of 20 feet per hour reaming the 12-inch hole and just over six feet per hour widening the hole to 28 inches. While the drillers lost and wore out numerous drill bits, they were still able to reach the underground mine workshop at 8:05 a.m. on October 9th.
On October 12th, the first miner emerged safely in a capsule that the Chilean Government dubbed “The Phoenix.” A little more than a day later—and 70 days after they were imprisoned in the mine—all 33 miners had been raised to the earth’s surface, where they were embraced by family members and greeted by Chile’s President, Sebastian Pinera.
The rescue of the Chilean miners was the most daunting in history. Never before had men survived after being trapped for so long under the earth’s surface. For members of the Plan B team, though, the success had been a sure-thing from the get-go. None of the members involved ever doubted the ultimate success of the Plan B rescue mission. I personally felt that we were all there for a reason, and that God was watching over us the entire time.
We didn’t have much contact with the families of the miners while in Chile. One day, however, CNN asked us to take part in a media event. We got corralled for an interview outside the gate where the family members were waiting. People hugged us. I didn’t know their names, although I recognized one woman from when her husband had come out of the rescue capsule. I’ll never forget the feeling of extreme gratitude.
Being involved in the rescue was truly a life-changing experience—one where I personally witnessed as the whole world came together for the good of mankind. It was an honor and privilege to be able to use the knowledge gained through serving the coal industry in West Virginia to play a role in the effort.
To gain on the lessons learned in Chile and prepare us here at home, a tax deductible Mine Rescue Drilling Fund has been established at Your Community Foundation in Morgantown. For more information, go to http://www.fundyourpassion.org/minerescue