Chilean mine rescue FAQs

The 33 trapped miners trapped in a Chilean mine for more than two months, whose plight has been closely followed around the world, were finally brought to the surface in a 22-hoiur rescue operation that began the night of Oct. 12.
A giant crane arrives to be used in the rescue operation of the trapped miners near Copiapo, Chile. ((Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press) )

The world's attention has been focused on Chile since the Aug. 5 collapse of the San Jose copper and gold mine near Copiapo — especially once it was discovered, 17 days after the collapse, that all 33 miners who had been trapped underground were alive and well.

Have a question about the Chilean mine rescue? Send it to us, and we'll answer it in this story.

After weeks of digging, rescuers started pulling miners up to the surface on Oct. 12. The operation took about 22 hours.

Readers and viewers have had many questions about the rescue process. Below are some of the most common, but send yours to CBC News,  and we will update them in this article.

How deep were they?

The miners were more than 600 metres below the surface. After an initial drill attempt failed to connect with them, it was halted after going down almost 600 metres.

The second "Plan B" drill was successful, reaching 624 metres below the surface. That was the shaft eventually used in the rescue mission.

How much space did they have?

CBC community member Grey Gardens asked how much physical space the 33 miners had to occupy. The miners were trapped in an approximately 500-square-foot cavern about the size of a small, studio apartment.

More answers

Chat replay

Dr. Alberto Goldwaser, a professor of psychiatry at NYU medical school,  answered your questions  on the health of the rescued miners.

What are some of the dangers?

The main risk was rocks falling down the shaft and either damaging the rescue shuttle (nicknamed Phoenix) or getting jammed between the shuttle and the walls of the hole, impeding the shuttle's progress either up or down.

Officials lined the uppermost portion of the shaft with metal sheeting to guard against falling rocks. The rescue shaft was also curved at a roughly 11-degree angle at the top, which made it difficult to install metal sheeting the whole way down.

Are there medical concerns?

The mission began at night in Chile, in part to avoid the sun. After not having seen any light sources in more than two months, doctors were worried the miners' retinas would be damaged. They were given powerful sunglasses to wear on arrival at the surface.

Officials worked diligently to ensure the miners had the strength of character to deal with spending as much as one hour upright in a 190 cm by 54 cm metal capsule inside a dark tunnel. The Phoenix had an escape hatch if anything went wrong, so the miners could return to the mine. The capsule was also equipped with communications equipment, food and water.

A map of the area where the mine collapsed. ((CBC))

Some of the miners have hypertension and other heart problems, so steps were taken to ensure they would remain calm throughout the journey and get medical attention as quickly as possible when they reached the surface. All were given flu shots. Aspirin was sent down to thin their blood. They all did 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every day — and each miner fasted for eight hours before boarding the capsule — to ensure they were as small as possible for the trip.

Some of the miners developed respiratory, skin and dental ailments after having spent two months in the humid, dirty mine environment. That much time in a closed environment could also make their immune systems susceptible to other diseases once they are above ground. The miners all wore a specially made harness to monitor their heart rate, breathing, temperature and oxygen consumption during the ascent.

Upon surfacing, all miners were met by two of their pre-selected family members before being taken to a triage site where their health was assessed.

Who was rescued first?

Officials were very tight-lipped about the official list specifying the order in which the miners were to be brought up beyond saying that the first person to ascend would be someone in excellent physical shape with the mental fortitude to withstand any setbacks that might arise.

In this image released by the government of Chile, rescue workers stand next to a colleague who is inside a capsule after performing a dry-run test for the eventual rescue.

In the end, that miner was 31-year-old Florencio Avalos.

Mario Sepulveda Espina, the second miner to reach the surface, has been known as the presenter or journalist of the group for his video interviews with fellow miners.

Mario Gomez, the ninth man to emerge, was the oldest man trapped underground. At 63, he has worked as a miner since he was 12 years old.

Edison Pena, an athlete who ran several kilometres a day while underground, was the 12th miner rescued.

The last miner to ascend was shift supervisor Luis Urzua, who was widely credited with keeping spirits up in the initial 17 days after the collapse before the miners had contact with the outside world.

Are they getting financial compensation?

CBC News reader Chris Tuttle wanted to know if the men would be compensated for their time in the mine.

It's not immediately clear if the miners will receive compensation from the company that employed them. According to several international news reports, the San Esteban company, which operates the San Jose mine, pursued bankruptcy protection after the collapse and has said it can't afford to pay the workers.

In late August, the miners' union called on the government to step in and pay the wages, but Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said labour laws prohibited the state from doing so. He said it was the mining company's responsibility, and it would have to be worked out in court.

The Associated Press reported that the families of 27 of the 33 workers have filed a $10-million negligence lawsuit against the company. A similar suit against government inspectors for failing to enforce safety regulations is also planned.

In the meantime, the miners' relatives have received money through donations. Soon after it was learned that the trapped men were all alive, Chilean mining executive Leonardo Farkas gave $10,000 cheques in the miners' names to each of their families and set up a collection fund.

The men also expect to be offered lucrative media deals and have called in a lawyer to draw up a contract ensuring the profits are split equally, the Telegraph reported.

What comes next, from a mental health perspective?

Dr. Alberto Goldwaser, a forensic psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at NYU medical school, had this response on a live chat with CBC News Your Voice:

"None of these men were prepared, due to their likely lifestyle, to what will come to them, fame. This could prove more overwhelming and destructive to them and their families.

"All of a sudden, these miners changed from individuals only important to their families to being important to the world. It is possible that the importance of family [will] deteriorate, and with this, suffering slowly but surely would set in.

"We are talking about valiant people [who] mostly grew up in a distant, cold, hard environment. Now, they can see the world, as a result of a tragic mishap. We cannot say they should not accept the offers [for media interviews and from sponsors], but I am afraid they cannot handle [them]. They may not be able to appreciate — digest — this rich meal and get real sick. Without preparation, I find it difficult to work."

With files from The Associated Press