Surviving the Chilean darkness

Editorial, Normal

THE world watched captivated yesterday as the first of 33 miners trapped deep underground for a record 69 days emerged into the cold night air of Chile’s Atacama desert.
As 31-year-old Florencio Avalos was successfully extracted from a 600m depth of the San Jose gold and copper mine, church bells tolled throughout Chile and people of every colour, creed, language and age cheered or wept with tears of joy around the world.
From every corner of the globe, from children to heads of state, called or wrote in with their well wishes.
Chile might be on the other side of the globe, and most Papua New Guineans might have no idea or care where it is, but this very human story touched the heart of every person who has been following the tragic saga for two months.
It speaks of triumph that peels away every superficial geographical, cultural or ideological shell that differentiates peoples of this world to arrive at that spot where lays the kernel of humanity.
It speaks of the triumph, literally, of mind over matter. 
It speaks of comradeship, of unity, of endurance, of patience, of faith, of undying hope and of love.
In an age of decadence, greed and violence, we witnessed overwhelming selflessness and sacrifice by the rescue team, of unity and unquestioning belief by the miners that they would be rescued. As we watched, we felt a glow spread outwards from our being to touch others with the innate message that this is the essence of what makes us human.
It is these traits which we allow to lie dormant in our being which separate us from our fellow creatures.
The Chilean rescue effort was not only watched by the world. Expertise were sought and given freely from the United States to Japan.
Space technology and expertise was brought in from the United States’ National Aeronautical and Space Administration (Nasa). Japanese medical experts were on standby.
When one drill reached the trapped miners and preparations were being made to haul up the miners, a second drill continued, just in case something went wrong with the first.
The drill shaft to the miners was fitted with cast iron casings in case loose rocks fall onto the capsule hauling miners.
Many people are claustrophobic and just the thought of being trapped underground is unnerving. To actually be trapped in a collapsed mine, which is as deep as six soccer fields lined up length-wise, and the thought of what could go wrong would drive people insane.
There can be more cave-ins, gas build-ups, flooding and lack of food and water – all of those possibilities would play on the mind of the most composed person.
For all 33 miners to have stayed in control, to stay alive and apparently in a healthy state for 69 days, is a testament to their mental strength.
The spiritual among us will declare this to be a modern day miracle.
It is the longest a group of this size, or indeed any size, has stayed alive underground for that length of time in a collapsed mine.
On Aug 5, a shaft caved in 300m down at the San Jose gold and copper mine. Although the Chilean government released public statements, stating that hopes of finding the miners alive were slim, rescue workers never stopped their work.
Seventeen days later, on Aug 22, after everybody had given up all hopes of finding the miners alive, a drill probe returned to the surface with a note attached to it. The note read:  “All 33 of us are well inside the shelter.”
 Despite the dust and the humidity and fast-depleting emergency rations, the miners had survived.
From that moment on, rescue efforts reached a frenzy. Rescuers started drilling a first 30cm pilot hole, aiming for the shelter. That rescue shaft broke through to the miners on Oct 9 and, two days later, metal lining to the rescue shaft to prevent rocks falling on the rescue capsule was completed.
Space technology and knowledge was brought into play. Masks were to be put on during the 15-minute ascent from the mine up the 622m shaft.
Miners were given daily doses of aspirin to thin their blood to stop clots during the ascent. Nasa helped with fitness programmes to cut muscle wasting in tight space.
We, in little Papua New Guinea, too offer our congratulations. Traipela mama bilong amamas stap wantaim yupla.