12 Things We Can Learn From the Chilean Miners and Their Rescuers

You saw the miners as they were rescued in real time. They emerged triumphant, some bounding with happiness and energy. How could this be? If I were confined to a space the size of a Manhattan studio apartment, in 90 degree heat, high humidity, dark and no way out for two months I would no doubt come out resembling Gollum's kid sister, pale and wrinkled and coocoo for cocopuffs, if you know what I mean.

The miners and those who advised them make me proud to be human. They reminded us of something important. What they did to survive their ordeal we can all do when faced with a full on emergency. Whether it's a hurricane, an earthquake, a man-made disaster or a freak October snowstorm like one we sustained in Western New York a few years ago, we can pull through if we pull together.

What can we learn from their experience with unbelievable stress?

1) Get organized. Apparently one of the first things the 33 men trapped underground did was get organized. They immediately established rationing of the little food they had, designated locations for waste, sought water they could drink and clean with and started an exercise program. Somehow these men avoided the Lord of the Flies -type senario so popular on reality shows. Instead they cooperated and helped each other so that all would survive.

2) Get a good medical doctor and follow their advice. Granted these men had the best Chile and the world had to offer but how many times do we go against our own doctor's advice? The miners had to follow some very strict guidelines and yet they chose to defer to the experts. There are times when arguing with your physician makes sense. Emergency situations isn't one of them.

3) Even when you are starving, regulate what you eat. If the men didn't slowly and methodically increase their calories and carbohydrates once food became available, they could have gone into insulin shock, triggered heart attack and died.

4) Exercise. While the main chamber was very small, the miners had a half a mile or so of tunnels available. They took advantage of the space to walk and run.

5) Even when it's just you and the dark, grooming is important. Good grooming is fundamental to good health. One of the first things the miners requested was shampoo and soap. They managed to rig some of the water available in the mine to create a shower.

6) Stay in touch with loved ones. We all know about the letters and momentos sent to the miners by family and friends.

7) Distraction helps. As soon as possible the miners were given video and music, like the famous Elvis fan requested.

8) Talk to a psychologist. Alberto Iturra, a psychologist was brought is to help the miners talk through their frustation, anxiety and depression.

9) As tempting as it is under stress, do not drink alcohol, even wine. Their doctors said no and there was no tavern on the tunnel to sneak even a shot.

10) Find a job and get to work. There was work to do like reinforcing the walls and clearing dirt loosened by the drilling.

11) Keep regular sleep and wake hours. As soon as they could get even primitive light underground, they maintained a circandian schedule alternating a fleurescent light with a red light to signify night time.

12) Sunglasses can make you look rock-star cool!

Now that the emergency is over and everyone is safe and doing amazingly well physically, the question remains how well they will do adjusting to an entirely different kind of stress.

The stress brought on by an adoring public.

Via Defying Dire Predictions, Trapped Miners Emerge Looking Fit


  • This is very interesting. I know that excersise keeps depression at bay, but I never thought of that in a mine collapse situation like that.
    Good Info!

  • Hi Dr. Aletta,
    What is your opinion of what may lie ahead, psychologically speaking, for the miners? I’m thinking specifically of those first 17 days when those on top believed they were looking for bodies, not survivors, and the men below, in pitch blackness, did not know if they would make it out alive, or indeed if anybody up top was even coming to get them.
    I’ve been reading, and writing, about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder lately. and recently came across two factors that apparently increase the likelihood of experiencing PTSD. For example, Hurricane Katrina survivors who fared worse mentally were those with two specific features in common: they were in the epicentre of the disaster, and felt essentially abandoned by those who were able to help them.
    Both factors, at least for those 17 days, seem true for the miners too. And emerging into the light didn’t just mean survival for the 33 miners, but a lifestyle transition from poor working class men to media celebrities. Your thoughts on this?


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