NASA warns of risks ahead of rescue of Chilean miners
Four NASA experts, who have returned from advising Chilean teams on their rescue efforts for 33 gold miners trapped in a mine, warned Tuesday that some of the biggest psychological risks are of a medium-term and long-term nature, dpa reported.
Chilean rescue workers say it could be early December before they are able to extract the miners from their 700-metre-deep cave, after the tedious drilling of two rescue shafts. In the meantime, the miners are receiving food, water and psychological support in the form of videos, games and live transmission of soccer games down a small shaft.
The rescue and family communities must adjust to the fact that this is a "marathon and not a sprint," said NASA psychologist Albert Holland.
Michael Duncan, the US space agency's deputy chief medical officer, said he noted that most of the Chilean rescue teams felt that "actually physically getting the miners out of the mine" was the end of the rescue.
"We brought to their attention that really the work is just beginning when the miners come out ... because there is a lot of rehabilitation and recovery that the miners will have to go through," he said.
Included in these challenges is the reintroduction to their families and to society.
"When they come out, they will ... have a certain celebrity status within their country ... There will be a lot of pressures by society, the media ... and others wanting part of their time," Duncan said.
The NASA experts praised the ingenuity and use of equipment by the Chilean rescue squads.
Duncan said that the information about long-term recovery was one of the most important messages they had taken with them to Chile.
Holland said it would be necessary to protect the miners and their families both medically and psychologically for at least the first 24 to 48 hours after they emerge from their ordeal.
The NASA experts, drawing on their experience of long periods of isolation in space, said they discussed how to train miners and their families about what to expect over the coming months and after their physical rescue.
The Chilean rescue experts were beginning to shift their mind set to the marathon idea, and "marathons have very different pacing and strategies," Holland said.
The NASA experts - two doctors, a psychologist and an engineer - praised as "exemplary" the deployment of Chilean medical equipment, calling it "textbook work."
One example was the decision by Chilean officials against requests by the miners for alcohol and tobacco. The NASA experts emphasized the psychological importance of the miners' maintaining a spirit of community and carrying out tasks essential to their rescue.
"It's important to realize they need to form an underground community. They're going to be a group living underground for a long time," Holland said.
"We have to expect that they're going to have their ups and downs, like we do, we have good days and bad days," Holland said. The above- ground community should "not make too much of a deal about small things."