Explainer: Trapped miners: A day in their life

  • Image: A combination of video grabs shows trapped miners
    Chilean Mining Industry via Reuters
    A combination of video grabs shows some of the trapped miners on Aug. 27.

    Could you hold up under the mental pressure of being trapped underground for several months? The 33 Chilean miners stuck since Aug. 5 face that struggle every day. Below is a look at what their typical day is like — and how it's been structured to help them stay busy.

    Sources: La Tercera, El Mercurio, Newsweek, Associated Press

  • Working

    Image: Drill seen from inside mine
    Chilean Presidency via AP
    A drill is seen inside the San Jose mine on Sept. 17 shortly after the first bore hole was made.

    The miners themselves decided to break up into three teams, each doing an eight-hour shift. They work in pairs to help and monitor each other under the difficult circumstances.

    Psychologist Al Holland, who was on a NASA team invited to Chile to advise officials, says it's crucial for the miners "to have meaningful work, not make-work."

    To that end, they spend their time helping the rescue effort by maintaining machinery from lights to generators; improving the shelter; and cleaning up drilling debris that comes through the bore hole.

    In addition, one miner has been chosen to be the overall manager, another is in charge of health issues and a third is their spiritual leader.

    The miners provide urine samples regularly to send above ground, where they are tested for  health problems.

  • Resting

    Image: A folding bed and supplies
    Ivan Alvarado  /  Reuters
    A folding bed and supplies — including clothes, toiletries and games — are displayed Aug. 28 before being sent down a tube to the miners.

    One of the first things provided to the miners were cots for sleeping; they had to be foldable to fit in the narrow tube used to shuttle supplies.

    A single music system was sent down with small speakers instead of headphones so the miners don't isolate themselves.

    A fiber-optic line dropped down the bore hole projects movies, news and soccer matches on a 50-inch space on a cave wall.

    Magazines, Bibles, books and journals to write in have also been sent down.

    Once ventilation for the mine was approved, the miners also were given a small ration of cigarettes.

    But they're not getting everything they ask for. A request for wine to celebrate Chile's Independence Day, on Sept. 18, was denied.

  • Eating

    Image: Cereal bars being sent to miners
    Roberto Candia  /  AP
    Cereal bars are placed in a tube being sent to the miners on Aug. 25.
    Image: Sandwiches in tubes
    Luis Hidalgo  /  AP
    Sandwiches fit easily into the delivery tube.

    Image: Bottled water for miners
    Chilean government via AP
    A miner displayes a box containing water.

    The ability to shuttle food down a narrow tube has not only restored the miners' health but provided an important daily cycle of meals that establishes a routine.

    It not an all-you-can-eat diet, because the miners will have to squeeze into a 28-inch-wide rescue pod. Some have to lose weight, while others have to watch it. So health experts are trying to provide 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day to each miner. The miners also are supposed to drink 4 liters of water a day.

    Sample menu 1
    Breakfast: Protein drink, bread with honey
    Snack: Dried fruit
    Lunch: Rice and cabbage, pear
    Snack: Protein drink, bread with pate
    Dinner: Pasta, milk

    Sample menu 2
    Breakfast: Protein drink, bread with avocado
    Snack: Pear compote with raisins and nuts
    Lunch: Steak and beans, tomato salad, apple
    Snack: Protein drink, bread with cheese
    Dinner: Steak and potatoes, tangerine

    Two miners with diabetes have slightly different menus.

    For Chile's Independence Day, on Sept. 18, the miners feasted on traditional meat pies — two each.

    But they had to make do with sodas because doctors vetoed their request for another national specialty: wine.

  • Communicating

    Image: Chile's president with baby
    Alex Ibanez  /  Chile's Presidential Press Office via AP
    Chile's president, Sebastian Pinera, holds the newly born daughter of one of the miners while speaking with them on Sept. 19.

    A live video feed keeps the miners in contact with everyone from their loved ones to Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, seen here holding the newborn daughter of one of the miners.

    The family contact via video and letters is "a sacred moment" for the miners, says Alberto Zamora, a health coordinator for the rescue operation.

    NASA's experts invited to the site cautioned, however, that relatives shouldn't get too focused on any troubles they might have above ground since the miners already have plenty to worry about.

    And there's been tension with the sociologist working with the miners. "Everyone here hates him," one miner told his wife, citing his personality and the "pressure" he puts on them during therapy sessions.

  • Praying

    Image: Rosaries for miners
    Chilean Mining Ministry via AFP - Getty Images
    Some of the 33 rosaries, each in its case, blessed and sent by Pope Benedict XVI to the miners. Catholicism is the main religion in Chile.

    One of the miners, Mario Gomez, was chosen as the spiritual leader of the group. He was also the miner whose letter to his wife was the first written contact from the miners once they were found.

    At 63 the oldest of the miners, Gomez is said to have been the first to urge his peers to pray for their rescue.

    The miners typically "gather for prayer and reflection" after lunch, says rescue coordinator Jorge Diaz, "and that's not something we suggested, it was their decision."

  • Miscellaneous

  • Image: Miners dirty clothes
    Aliosha Marquez A  /  AP
    A tube of dirty clothes sent up by miner Victor Zamora sits on a table Sept. 13 as his wife and mother read his letters. Each miner has family members camping out at the site, and they wash clothes for their loved ones.

    The miners send dirty clothes to the surface via the tube system that also allows their family members to send down fresh underwear, shirts and pants.

    They're exercising regularly, sometimes with a trainer via video and other times alone. Sit-ups, in particular, are helpful for a slim waistline, which will be needed for the 28-inch-wide rescue pod that eventually will take the miners to the surface.

    The miners also have set up a latrine area away from the working and sleeping quarters.

Gallery: Miner profiles, first moments of freedom

Read about each of the 33 miners as they are rescued.

Video: Miners may be freed ahead of schedule

  1. Transcript of: Miners may be freed ahead of schedule

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: And there is word this morning that rescue efforts to free 33 miners trapped for six weeks now in a Chilean mine are ahead of schedule. TODAY national correspondent Natalie Morales has made her way to the mine in Copiapo , Chile . Natalie , good morning to you.

    NATALIE MORALES reporting: And good morning to you, Meredith . You can see all of the activity here at the drilling site behind me. Three powerful drills and their crews now working 24-7 to try to dig a rescue tunnel to the miners . And officials here say they're making good headway for an early rescue. It's a new day at Camp Hope , home away from home for the families who've been waiting since August 5th , the day their world crumbled with the desert rock into the mine that swallowed their loved ones . Rolando Gonzalez , or "Clown Rolly," as he's known affectionately, comes from a mining background and feels it's his duty to help here.

    Mr. ROLANDO GONZALEZ:

    MORALES: 'The kids need happiness,' he says.

    Life goes on here as best it can. Spirits remain high as they cling to letters from their loved ones brought up almost daily from the mine. Nearly a half mile below, and for 50 days now, the miners are trying to get on with their subterranean existence. They know getting out safely is as much up to them as it is to their rescuers. And they've shown nothing but resilience, even finding their own way to celebrate Chile 's independence day this past weekend. But good attitudes aren't enough. The key to their survival, daily deliveries, thanks to palomas, or doves, through a three-inch shaft brings them food three times a day, medicine and vitamins. To maintain normalcy, the men mimic a routine of day and night with lamps. They communicate regularly with their families. On Wednesday, the loved ones of miner Alex Vega celebrated his 32nd birthday, singing him " Happy Birthday " through a video hookup. The miners have even been sent cigarettes and a projector screen, allowing them to watch soccer and movies. Work also helps. The men have shifts where they help clear the rock from the drilling. Wednesday they recovered a part of a drill that became detached.

    Mr. BRANDON FISHER (CEO, Center Rock, Inc.): So far the miners have actually been a help to our operation, giving us tips on what they're seeing down there vs. what we're seeing on the surface.

    MORALES: Brandon Fisher is among a small team of American drillers racing here to dig a tunnel to the miners . He has experience in mine rescues, having helped pull out the nine miners from the 2002 Quecreek mine disaster in Pennsylvania .

    Mr. FISHER: Stuff like this hits real close to our heart and we just -- we wanted to come down here and do something.

    MORALES: Late last week, their drill, known as Plan B , was the first to break through the chamber where the 33 had been trapped.

    Mr. RICHARD SOPPE (Marketing Manager for Center Rock, Inc.): Everyone on site started hugging. It was a -- it was a defining moment.

    MORALES: Just like Quecreek , the Chile rescue plan will entail sending a bullet-shaped steel cage capsule. Expected to be completed by next week, it will be more than eight feet long, but only 21 inches in diameter. Big enough, though, to pull the men to the surface. And for the families keeping a daily vigil here, hope a new day will bring them one day closer to their loved ones . Now, the lead engineer says here the earliest they might expect a rescue now would be that first week of November although some family members here are hoping it could be even sooner than that. And perhaps the best indication, that rescue capsule is expected here next week. Meredith :

    VIEIRA: Yeah, Natalie , how far down have they been able to drill so far?

    MORALES: Well, as I mentioned, there are three competing -- three drills here that are now actively working on the site. And one of those drills has actually made it more than halfway down into the mine shaft where they are. So, you know, a lot of progress being made here. So there are high hopes it could be sooner than the Christmas time frame that they had been talking about earlier.

    VIEIRA: And their spirits are quite amazing. Natalie Morales , thank you so much .

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