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Chile: what happens next?

The countdown to the rescue of the Chilean miners is finally underway. Here’s how the next 48 hours are likely to play out.

Lizet Gallardo, granddaughter of trapped miner Mario Gomez, plays at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile on Sunday
Lizet Gallardo, granddaughter of trapped miner Mario Gomez, plays at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile on Sunday

YESTERDAY AFTERNOON A drill reached the trapped Chilean miners, signalling that the most eagerly followed rescue mission since Apollo 13 is at last imminent, some 65 days after they’d been stuck underground when the mine collapsed.

Above ground, at the area dubbed ‘Camp Hope’, rescuers sprayed champagne, children dressed up in costumes, vans sold chips and burgers, and the small village swelled to accommodate 2,000 journalists and the personnel attached to the 20 companies taking part in the rescue effort.

The countdown to the rescue – and what Chile hopes will be the party of a lifetime – was officially underway.

So what happens next for ‘Los 33′ – the 33 men – on their final days underground?

Today:

  • Underground, the miners are preparing for their imminent rescue with a detailed medical check-up and further stress tests.
  • Each miner will take a 100mg dose of aspirin to prevent them getting blood clots or suffering hypertension as they make the half-mile journey to the surface.
  • Final agreement will be reached on the order the men will be taken to the surface. According to Bloomberg, the ‘most skilled’ will come out first, in case they are needed to go back down to assist others. The weakest will follow, and then the rest will be taken out. The Guardian reports that several men have asked to be the last man out, in what Chile’s health minister, Jaime Manalich, described as “a completely admirable show of solidarity.” However, it later emerged that solidarity might not have been their only motivation. “On further questioning, however, the men revealed the cause of the disagreement: a guaranteed place in Guinness World Records for the longest time a miner has ever been trapped underground,” the newspaper adds.
  • Above ground, rescue workers will finish installing a metal casing on the walls along one-sixth of the 623-meter (2,040-foot) rescue shaft. They will then install and test equipment designed to lift the miners to the surface.

Tuesday:

  • Miners will continue taking aspirin.
  • Above ground, a viewing platform for selected members of the media is being erected, and final checks will be carried out on the escape tunnel.

Wednesday:

  • Two paramedics will be lowered into the mine to help the men prepare for the journey.
  • As they prepare to make the trip to the surface the men will don compression socks and green waterproof suits, designed to let their skin breathe.
  • The miners will wear elastic bands on their lower extremities during the 15-to-20 minute ascent that will help ensure proper blood circulation and prevent a reduction in arterial pressure and possible fainting.
  • Since the rescue capsule will rotate up to a dozen times as it rises through the curving 2,040 foot escape shaft, the man have been given a high-calorie liquid donated by NASA to help prevent sickness, which they will take six hours before they’re due to go up.
  • On the 20 minute journey to the surface, the men will be able to communicate with rescuers via a two-way communication system and a video camera. The biggest concern for officials, the Guardian reports, is that the miners could suffer panic attacks during the ascent.
  • The journey from underground to the surface is expected to take each miner just 20 minutes.
  • When they arrive at the top, they will immediately be given a pair of sunglasses (Oakley Radar, reports suggest) to protect their eyes from the sudden shock of direct sunlight.
  • They will then be helped from the capsule and taken down a darkened hallway where they will get to spend a few moments with their families and – if they consent – doctors, nurses and psychologists will begin a 48-hour evaluation of their mental and physical health, before they are flown to nearby Copiapo hospital. If they don’t wish to undergo the medical tests, they can go home immediately – but they will be asked to sign a waiver. Ten of the miners have been identified as needing urgent medical care. (It’s likely that one other man at least will opt for the hospital stay.)
  • Before they can go home, there’s just one final procedural issue: each of the men will be asked to give his fingerprint to confirm that he is who he says.

And that’s when a whole new drama starts for the men, as media outlets wave cheques, wedding magazine deals and offers of trips to Old Trafford under their noses. But psychologists have warned that many of the men still have a long journey back to normality ahead of them. “It’s like coming back from war,” says Dr Alberto Iturra, the Chilean psychiatrist who is leading a 20-strong team of therapists at San Jose.

About the author:

Jennifer O'Connell

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