"Los 33"

I have been glued to my TV set, watching the rescue of the 33 miners, aged 19-63, that have been trapped in the Chilean mine disaster. The mine collapsed on August 5th, 69 days ago! It wasn't until 17 days later, on August 22 that the world found out that the miners were still alive. It was when a drill reached a depth of 2,260 feet and the rescue workers heard tapping on the drill. When the drill was removed, the rescuers found a note tied to the end of it that read: "The 33 of us in the shelter are well."

They survived those 17 days by rationing themselves to two spoonfuls of tuna, half a cookie and a half-full glass of milk every 48 hours. Can you even imagine that?

On August 23, rescuers began sending them food, water and any medication that was needed, in  plastic tubes called "pigeons" down the four inch diameter life line.

The rescue drilling operation, said rescue of the miners could take 3-4 months, given the instability of the mine and the time needed to drill a new hole, about 2 feet in diameter, to extract them.

September 17 - A rescue drill reaches the miners. The small hole is widened over the next month to prepare for their evacuation.

The men are transitioned to a 2,200 calorie meat and rice diet, to be sure that they would be able to fit in the slim 2 feet in diameter evacuation shaft.

The Chilean government called upon NASA for their experience with the astronauts and living apart from the families and being secluded for long periods of time. According to Michael Duncan Chief Medical Officer and Lead, NASA Team to Chile  "I think what we brought to the table for the Chileans was our experience in behavior health support, not only in terms of the confinement and entrapment for that period of time but also what the miners and the families could experience once the miner had been rescued. In working with our astronauts and their families we prepare them beforehand and we support them during the mission and we support them after the astronaut returns. And I think our expertise in those areas was very helpful for the Chilean doctors and psychologists."  courtesy Washington Post

Once the miners were discovered, they established a routine, eating regular meals at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea. They had a 500 watt light and turned it on and off to simulate night and day. Every man was given a job. The group was divided up into three work teams each with a foreman:  food/water, cleanup activities, and mine work including operating "La Paloma" (the pigeon).

The men amused themselves by playing cards, dominoes, and dice. They received videos of football games, copies of newspapers, were able to send letters to their loved ones, and talk to them also.

October 9 - Rescue workers finish drilling escape shaft, and the government states that the men will be evacuated within days.

October 11- Rescue workers finish reinforcing the escape shaft with metal tubes to avoid any last-minute disaster. The rescue began Tuesday evening, October 12th.

You may or may not have heard the story of the two miners who were riding in a truck down below. They stopped their truck because they saw a white butterfly go by - such a rare sight so far down in the mine. As they were looking at the butterfly in wonderment, the mine in front of them caved in. Their lives were saved by the butterfly.

The rescue capsule is named "Phoenix" to rise out of the earth like the bird out of the ashes. And rise it did - 33 times for the miners and several times for the medical doctors and rescuers who went down in the mine to prepare the miners for their ascent to the surface.

Each time a miner appeared, the crowd chanted "Chile, Chile, Chile!" I was astounded by the camaraderie felt among the miners, the rescuers, the families, and everyone else standing around. They all seemed to have one thing in common - the love of their country. Also, their faith in God was  strong. The oldest miner, 63, came out of the rescue tube, hugged his wife, then fell down to his knees and prayed.  And I believe the world prayed with him.

I teared up when each miner stepped foot on the surface. When they walked into their families waiting arms. When they hugged so hard and didn't seem to want to let go.

It was so nice to watch a happy story on the news for once. A happy ending. To see people all come together. To work together. To love their country.

Let us give thanks to God or to whomever you believe in, for keeping these miners alive, for making the rescue mission a success, and for their fairly good health.

I pray for the miners and their families for their future and that they can adjust to their new lives. Because surely their lives have changed from this accident.

I salute you, "Los 33"!
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