Miners are finally told of lengthy wait for rescue
THE RESCUE team fighting to free 33 men who have been trapped in a Chilean mine since August 5 have told their charges that they are unlikely to be freed until Christmas.
The country's health minister, Jaime Manalich, broke the news to the miners just hours before the first sections of the enormous drill which will be used to free the men arrived on site. Officials had delayed telling them out of concern for their mental wellbeing.
The miners had hoped to be freed by September 18, when Chile celebrates its Fiestas Patrias, its 200th anniversary of independence from the Spanish. The men are said to have received the revelation with the same stoicism that has already seen them survive one of the most remarkable mining disasters in modern memory.
Psychologists decided that they could hold off informing the group of the extent of the ordeal ahead no longer. "We were able to tell them... they would not be rescued before the Fiestas Patrias, and that we hoped to get them out before Christmas," Mr Manalich said.
Although they took the news calmly, Chile's health minister said the men could suffer "a period of depression, anguish and severe malaise" and that anti-depressants would be sent to them if needed. "We have to make sure the miners are physically and psychologically fit," he said. "If they lose their mental balance, it could create panic and violence and that would be a huge catastrophe."
The Chilean authorities have asked Nasa to help them develop a series of physical and mental exercises which will help the men cope with the months ahead, as they await rescue in a stiflingly hot chamber 700 metres underground. A team of Chilean submarine commandos have been brought in to give advice about living in cramped conditions.
Although the men will not celebrate Fiestas Patrias above ground, they have asked for bottles of wine to be sent down.
Engineers yesterday began piecing together the 28-tonne drill to reach the miners.
The miners' families are growing angry as they demand answers to who was responsible for the disaster. Some relatives filed a lawsuit yesterday against the owners of the mine. (© Independent News Service)