Ten years ago, the world was glued to their televisions watching the dramatic rescue of Chilean mine workers. This group of 33 men had been stuck 2,300 feet underground from August 5, 2010 to October 13, 2010 – they survived 69 days with limited resources and without access to the outside world.
On August 5, 2010, miners were working within a mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert when a huge explosion blocked the passageways. When the miners were able to explore the damage, they found the explosion was actually a huge block of stone , as tall as a 45-story building and weighing 770,000 tons, that had fallen from the mountain and into the mine. This mega-block of stone blocked any way in and any way out of the mine, making escape and rescue nearly impossible.
The 33 trapped men quickly realized there was no way out and the situation is dire. It is possible they will never be rescued and may be buried alive or die of starvation. Ultimately, it would be 17 days before they made contact with anyone on the surface and another 52 days for the rescue operation. When they were rescued, all 33 were alive and almost all were in good condition (a few had to have medical attention for pneumonia and dental infections).
A major reason the world was drawn to the Chilean mining accident story was their amazing survival mindset. The 33 men decided early on that they would survive. Then, the group of men put every survival skill they learned into practice to make it out alive. While we may not face the same type of extreme situation, their experience can teach us how to survive any type of disaster.
Organized their days and survival habitat
Luis Urzúa, the 54-year-old shift supervisor (pictured on left), is credited with leading the group towards a survival mindset. Upon realizing they would be stuck underground for possibly a lengthy period, he organized systems that were necessary for their survival. In addition to creating a food rationing system, he organized their days and their habitat.
As a natural leader, he took charge. He organized their underground habitat into different areas for sleeping, working, and disposing of waste. He organized a schedule for the men. He even used his truck underground to function as a makeshift office and used its lights to simulate daytime and nighttime.
Regulated food intake
In the first hours of their entrapment, the leaders in the group emphasized the importance of regulating food intake. They understood that they may have to subsist on whatever food was in the emergency cabinet for a lengthy amount of time. According to Readers Digest, “[Mario] Sepúlveda leads a tally of what [was] inside the emergency cabinet—cans of peaches, peas, and tuna, along with 24 liters of condensed milk and 93 packages of cookies.”
By rationing this amount of food, they avoided having anyone starve to death. They managed to stretch what was only intended to be emergency rations for 2-3 days to two weeks until they made contact with the surface. Alonso Soto for World News explains, “They rationed their provisions, eating two mouthfuls of tuna and drinking half a glass of milk every 48 hours. Health officials estimate they may have lost about 17.5 to 20 pounds (8 to 9 kg) each.”
Resourceful with water
Additionally, they avoid having anyone dehydrate with their resourcefulness. According to Readers Digest, “There are several thousand liters of water in nearby tanks, to keep the engines cool. The water is tainted with small amounts of oil, but it is still drinkable.” In addition to sourcing water from the vehicle radiators, the men also dug to find sources of underground water.
Utilized first aid
When the miners made contact with the surface, they recorded videos of their survival habitat. One of the highlights was their first aid box that included rubbing alcohol. Britannica explains, “Some of the men developed fungal infections due to the high humidity and 95 °F (35 °C) heat, and some suffered eye and respiratory problems, but the miners were otherwise unscathed.” Having basic first aid supplies proved to be helpful.
Found ways to move and play
With no end in sight, the men recognized they needed to exercise. They made a point to walk and move around the 1.2 miles of galleries underground. In addition, they also took the time to play games, beginning with making a checkerboard and pieces from a piece of cardboard. Once they made contact with the outside world, they received videos of sports games to view, cards, dice, and music players.
Created a democracy and worked together
When trapped underground for 69 days, the men could have easily turned on one another. This story could have been more Lord of the Flies than an amazing story of survival. The London Daily Telegraph quotes Mario Sepúlveda as saying, “All 33 trapped miners, practicing a one-man, one-vote democracy, worked together to maintain the mine, look for escape routes and keep up morale. We knew that if society broke down we would all be doomed.” They established a democracy and agreed to respect the majority vote on all decisions.
Patrick Kiger explains for Reuters, “The miners are as imperfect as the rest of us humans -- they had arguments, tensions and even a few fistfights during their entombment. But for the most part, they found a way to work together. Foreman Urzua told the Post that the men were able to come together because they established a ‘democracy,’ where every issue was put up to a vote and everyone respected the result, even if it was 17-16.”
They all had a common goal – to survive. Sharing a common goal made it possible for the men to work together as a team and to encourage one another. Another way they worked together was by taking an oath of silence. They vowed never to reveal certain details of what occurred in the mine during their darkest days.
Ávalos, one of the miners, is quoted in Wikipedia saying, “As a group we had to keep faith, we had to keep hope, we had to all believe that we would survive.” When someone had a bad day, the others in the group encouraged him. They were determined to keep hope alive throughout the entire ordeal. Psychology Today notes, “Every day after lunch, the miners gathered for prayer. One of them created a makeshift chapel. An engineer managed to get 33 copies of the New Testament and two bibles sent to the men to attend to their ‘spiritual needs’. Each bible was personalized with the name of the miner and specific verses were tagged for hope.”
May their story of survival inspire you, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply