Chile’s Rescue of Miners a Lesson for the World

I can’t let the rescue of the 33 miners in Chile pass without comment. It seems that so much could so easily have gone so very wrong. Instead, it’s been called by some reporters, a case study in correct disaster response.

     Last night I was channel hopping to find as much news as I could, and watched ABC’s 20/20. It was the first report I saw on the whole rescue, not just of the men coming out of the rescue cage.

     Aspects that fascinate me include the first time estimate of rescue taking until Christmas. Was this a deliberate overestimate to prevent despair if an early target couldn’t be reached? Then there’s the support of the miners while they were underground. Water bottles, food, the famous toothbrushes were sent down through a tiny shaft, but 20/20 revealed that they were also given a phone, camera, clothing, and even a projection screen and cots! How did they get so much through so little?

     NASA’s involvement in advising on living in close quarters and isolation will be interesting to learn. The miners’ resolve to survive co-operatively will give another lesson. 20/20 reported that at first there were arguments and fist fights among them, until the shift foreman took command and organized the men into teams with responsibilities. How did he manage this in such terrifying, desperate conditions?

     I’ve also been awed by the under-reported service of four soldiers who went down the rescue shaft to help each miner put on the equipment in the cage for the journey to the surface. What a heroic effort for that first man who voluntarily went down the shaft to the miners, with no one knowing for certain if the cage would work and not get stuck. Furthermore, those four unnamed soldiers remained underground until every miner was out. At any time there could have been a failure or collapse that would have trapped them permanently. Here is unsung courage of the highest order.

     The fact that Chile welcomed international offers of help from world experts is likely an enormously significant factor in the flawless success of the rescue. The best managers know what they don’t know, and seek assistance in these areas. Chile and the miners themselves, managed this perfectly and can now teach the world.

     Mike would like to add how different this was, from the tragic rescue attempt of Floyd Collins, a caver who got stuck underground when a rock fell on his foot, trapping him in a narrow passage. Rescuers drilled down to free him, but he died of exposure and starvation after 14 days, only three days before they reached him. This happened in 1925 and Mike says that now, with current rescue techniques, Collins would likely have been saved.

 

To have a look under the ground of the Niagara Escarpment, see our feature “Beginner Caves on the Escarpment.” Nowhere near as deep as the safe room in the Chilean mine, it still shows you what it’s like to have tons of rock over your head. Anyone want to go caving? And what has impressed you about the Chilean rescue success?

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