Trapped: Inside the Chilean Mine Collapse


Through the paloma, they were sent a tiny palm-sized television that projects a 50-inch picture.

To make it work, Chilean engineers used the second shaft to connect the trapped men with a life support system that includes electricity, running water, fresh air, and the fiber optic video cable that allows the men to watch live soccer through their tiny TV. It also enables them to speak with rescuers and family members above.

"Down here we're fighting too, just like the Chilean soccer players," says miner Franklin Lobos, a former professional soccer player. "We are fighting to get out of this 2,300-foot hole. Thank you all for your support."

All day and all night, palomas carrying food and supplies are loaded on the surface and dropped to the men half a mile below. It takes ten minutes to get down to the men, ten minutes to unload, and then the paloma is raised and filled again.

Each of the men had lost 20 pounds before rescuers were able to send provisions. They've now been rehydrated and re-nourished and are receiving hot packaged meals, such as meatballs and chicken and rice, daily.

"We have to maintain their muscle mass so that it doesn't atrophy," said Amelia Pons, a nutritionist overseeing their diet. "That's the way to avoid any weight gain because later they will have to go up in that cage that will take them out."

Chilean Miners: The Long Hot Wait

The men have been told that their waists must not exceed 35 inches in order to fit into the round rescue cage each will eventually ride for the three-hour journey to the surface. Evacuating all 33 men is expected to take four days.

The complexities of navigating the physical and mental stress of isolation are closest to challenges faced by astronauts, submarine crews and teams working through the Antarctic winter. With that in mind, the Chilean government invited four of NASA's top life sciences experts to the mine to offer advice.

"This is very much unprecedented," said Dr. J.D. Polk, NASA's chief of space medicine, just after returning to Houston from Chile. "Never have so many people been trapped so long so far down."

"One of the big differences is that our astronauts not only are prepared for this, they also have a date that they are coming back," said Al Holland, a NASA psychologist.

For weeks, the men trapped in the mine had only their headlamps for light. Now, with electric lights, the NASA scientists advised that they use lighting to strictly regulate a day-and-night cycle.

"It is very important to have a regular night-day,'' said Dr. Holland. "It prevents free running the sleep cycle. Where people have free run, in polar stations, it has been very, very negative outcomes. You will have someone sleeping while the other people are awake, on different schedules, and this leads to disintegration of a community."

He added that sleep will help the miners maintain good moods.

Voices from Home

Communication from home, too, is good for the miners. However, conversations over the video link are limited to five minutes weekly.

"There can be too much communication," said Holland. "Just like there can be too much or too little of anything, sleep or what have you."

He added, "There needs to be a distinction between the two groups in order for them to adapt to where they are, what they have to do, to solve those sets of problems."

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