Journey to the Surface of the Earth

Yesterday, the 33 miners trapped inside a mine for almost two months were rescued via a small tube that brought them up to the surface. It’s a gratifying end to a story that could have been immensely tragic at a number of points over the past couple of months, and their rescue is a small shred of good news in the world today, and watching and reading some of the actions that went into saving the men seem to me born out of this strange future that we’re living in.

To fully appreciate what had to be done to save the miners, one needs to take a look at a diagram that the BBC had put together for their coverage of the accident. The engineering and logistical efforts of attempting to save a group of men a half-mile below one’s feet is astounding in and of itself, from their discovery to their rescue, but the efforts that have been made to ensure that they are alive and healthy in ways that remind me much of the efforts to recover the damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft.

Unlike major disasters that seem to have fallen lately, from the West Virginia Mine accident and the Deepwater Horizon explosion, this was an accident that has been made better by a coordinated effort of people and technology, rather than a recovery effort to stem off the worst case scenario as people have identified the problem, and sought to fix it straight away, making this seem like one of the instances where we don’t have to see the worse happen.

Moreover, I’m reminded of some of the best, and worse elements of people in this accident. Such preparations have been taken for the men down in the mines: they had communications with their rescuers on the surface, while they likewise had the ability to speak with psychologists to keep them from going crazy; consultants from submarine experts and NASA were brought in to help cope with their isolation. Workers were outfitted with dark glasses to prevent their eyesight from damage upon reaching the surface.

Given the nature of the accident, and the plight of the men down below, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more media coverage of this until now. It’s barely registered on my radar, except when there was something more newsworthy about it: the news sources have always been good at covering far more of an event than is generally necessary, and there’s been some indications of that. But at the same time, I’m surprised, because there are entire segments of reality television devoted to things such as this: people trapped together in a single place, unable to get away from one another. Given that the psychologists never had to prescribe antidepressants to the miners, I’m sure that there would have been little drama (because honestly, real life isn’t really that dramatic, no matter the nomenclature of ‘reality’ TV), but I can certainly see some satirical speculative fiction novel written about a disaster, with television cameras present, to capitalize on it. Hopefully, we’ll never see anything like that.

At the same time, there’s been little attention (that I’ve seen) on what will be done to prevent something like this happening again. Clearly, something went wrong somewhere, and instances like BP’s oil spill, the Massey Energy explosion or the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company sludge release don’t fill me with any sort of confidence that companies are looking out for the safety of their workers at the expense of major disasters happening that will adversely affect them in the long run.

There will be other disasters in the future, that much can be sure: accidents and corporate goals will likely guarantee that, but hopefully, the resources and dedication that have been demonstrated in Chile will be brought out the next time people need to be brought home from disaster.

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