A story of survival and rescue

Published 8:05 pm Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I read a lot of news and watch some on television, but there is one story that should be at the top of some kind of list; yet I have heard very little about it.

It is an amazing story of survival and rescue. If the same set of circumstances were happening in the USA, it probably would have a catchy name and we’d be inundated with a “countdown” of the number of days. Remember the BP oil spill and Day 33 or 62?

The story comes from Chile and it’s about those 33 miners who were trapped almost one-half mile below the surface. On Aug. 5 the gold and copper mine in which they worked caved in and the 33 found a rescue room that was prepared for just such an accident. It was a room about 600 square feet and supplied with small amounts of water, food and oxygen.

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For reference, 600 feet is about the size of a standard hotel room and it is hard to imagine getting 33 people in that small space even for a short period.

Can you imagine being with 32 of your best friends in a hotel room for 65 days? I would go crazy and I am amazed that the videos or information that we have received from these men seem to show them holding up pretty good.

How would you have handled the situation?

I’m not claustrophobic, which is the abnormal fear of being confined in small places. I can ride elevators with no discomfort and, when playing hide and seek as a child, I had no problem with getting into a small closet. But, both of those spaces are above ground.

I’m not sure just how I would feel if I were trapped underneath the ground in a room that was as small as my office. It’s the underground part that would give me the “willies.” Now, those willies would be multiplied by about 33 times if there were 33 other people in my office with me. Suddenly, I’m a member of the lunatic fringe and I’m not talking politics!

Just thinking about the ordeal has led me to wonder about those practices that we take for granted. Like eating and sleeping and going to the bathroom.

The ordeal began Aug. 5 with the entrapment. Thankfully, the rescue room was found. Enough food had been stored for two days. According to a timeline by one of the news sources, it took 17 days before the above-ground rescue team reached them with a 5-inch diameter drill. For the first 17 days, 33 men had to survive on food that was planned for two days. That’s the first miracle, other than the actual survival of the cave-in.

For 17 days, the miners each took two spoonfuls of tuna, one sip of milk, and a biscuit every 48 hours. That’s all they had every two days. Two spoonfuls of tuna, one sip of milk and a biscuit. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a cathead biscuit.

On that 17th day, the rescue team heard a tapping on the drill and a little later an attached note that gave the glorious news, “The 33 of us in the shelter are well.”

Hallelujahs from down in the cave and up on the surface. Once again, I try to put myself in the place of either. If I’m family, I am ecstatic to know that my husband, brother, friend, etc. is alive.

If I am one of the 33 down below, I am thankful that I have been found! One of the first things they tried to communicate was that they were hungry. Guess what they asked for? Canned peaches, toothbrushes and cold beer. They got two out of three. Not bad, but they didn’t get the cold beer.

A type of umbilical cord was sent down in that space that the drill bit had opened. Fresh food, water, oxygen and ways to communicate were sent. That’s how we saw those first pictures of the trapped miners on some newscasts. They were surprisingly upbeat and positive, a marvelous witness to the strength of the human spirit.

Finding them and being able to communicate sent the country into euphoria. All national political figures that might have been traveling came home and joined the effort to rescue these natives. There was a unity of purpose that usually accompanies these calamities. Plus there was an acknowledgment that all were fortunate to be alive and hopeful.

As we wake up this Wednesday morning, hopefully all of the 33 are above ground, safe and secure in the arms of their loved ones. The actual rescue to bring them to the surface was to begin at midnight (last night). Why then? The rescue experts felt that it would be best if, after 67 days of being trapped underneath, they were brought out in darkness to lessen the harm to their eyes.

I began by saying that I had not followed the story. I had seen a little of it, but, sometimes if it doesn’t happen in the United States or even in my neck of the woods, it’s not too interesting. That’s unfortunate. Great stories are happening all over the world.

This one is an amazing tale of survival and rescue. The people of Chile should be proud of themselves. They have kept the faith and, when all or any of the 33 miners get to the top of their world today, they will have shown us what it means to persevere in the face of overwhelming odds. That, too, is a miracle.