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Miner miracle

Oct. 15, 2010

When I fired up my computer Wednesday morning, the headline on CNN’s website was Miners Emerge to Dawn’s Early Light, which caused me to laugh out loud. The media always have the last word, and our American friends can’t help themselves when it comes to putting their own stamp on the success of another nation.

October 15, 2010 
By Peter Sells

Like many
of you, I was watching the coverage of the mine rescue in Chile. What I found different about
this operation compared to past similar incidents is that from the time almost two
months ago when it was confirmed that the miners had survived, there was never
any doubt in my mind of a successful outcome. The miners, on their own with no
contact for 17 days, remained rational and did all of the right things to
ensure their survival. The technical planning of the rescue was deliberate, put
safety ahead of haste and was inclusive of alternative ideas and international
expertise. The care of the miners’ physical and mental health was an integral
part of the operation. As I wrote this, they had brought up the thirteenth miner
and the rescues were complete the next day.

But what
happens now? Will the impressive technical expertise be followed up with
equally impressive counseling, monitoring, support and long-term care? In my
Flashpoint column of December 2009 I wrote about some of the tragic events that
took place in the wake of the successful 1987 rescue of Baby Jessica from an
abandoned well in a backyard in Texas. Specifically, I mentioned the suicide of
paramedic Robert O’Donnell and the legal troubles of police officer Andy
Glasscock.  My hopes for the miners and
rescuers in
Chile is that the atmosphere of careful
and comprehensive planning that has been exhibited to this point will extend
into a long-term plan. It is certain that the media will inundate the miners
and their families with attention and commercial opportunities. Dealing with
sudden fame and attention is bizarre enough but to do so in the psychological
wake of being rescued after two months underground is a double whammy.

else will grab the international spotlight soon, and these guys will have gone
from ordinary working men to victims to heroes to ordinary working men with no
warning or preparation. I asked Vince Savoia, the executive director of the
Tema Conter Memorial Trust, (please see their good work at for his thoughts on the Chilean

Vince put
the situation in the following context: the miners have been trapped
underground for 69 days, technically, buried alive; they have experienced man’s
worst nightmare first hand. According to Vince, “This can be considered a
critical incident. A critical incident is any situation that causes one to
experience unusually strong emotional, psychological, behavioural and cognitive
reactions which have the potential to interfere with the ability to function
normally. This event was outside of the normal range of the miners’ experience,
it was completely unexpected, it disrupted their sense of control over their
own lives and, in fact, involved a threat to life – their own and those of
their comrades.


grateful for their rescue, these men will now have to deal with the new reality
of not being trapped. The next several months will be an emotional
rollercoaster for many of these men. Dealing with the reality that they are
truly alive and no longer trapped will be difficult for some to cope with. Their
psychological recovery will be defined by the psycho-social support they
receive from their family, friends, community and employer.”

Media and
the web have made the world much smaller in 2010 than it was in 1987 during the
Baby Jessica rescue, or even in 2002 during the Quecreek mine rescue in
Pennsylvania. Let’s hope that the understanding and treatment of human psychological response
to the stress of critical incidents has likewise advanced.

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