Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Phenomenal Rescues

On August 5 a gold and copper mine in Chile collapsed and trapped thirty-three miners 2,000 feet underground. By the time you read this the ordeal might be over.

Just a few minutes after 8 o'clock last Saturday morning a powerful drill broke through the last feet of volcanic rock to the space where the miners have been imprisoned for over two months. The trapped miners erupted in cheers, family members rejoiced, machine operators yelled, the Chilean national anthem was sung, and the crowd shouted, "Viva Chilean miners!"

It was 17 days after the collapse of the mine that the miners were discovered alive. Since that time an extraordinary array of international talent has used rescue techniques that have never before been employed. Advisers from NASA were brought in and more than 20 private companies have worked on digging three rescue holes simultaneously. Custom-built steel rescue capsules have been designed and manufactured.

After the last 315 feet of the tunnel has been reinforced with steel, the men will be raised one by one in a half-ton metal capsule through a shaft that is not straight and is only 21 inches wide. Lifting each miner will take 30 minutes to an hour. After a couple of hours at a makeshift clinic nearby, each will be airlifted by helicopter to a hospital for two days of observation.

No expense has been spared and extraordinary efforts have been utilized in this effort to rescue these trapped miners. The above-ground team numbers more than 300. It includes communications experts, doctors, psychologists, launderers and cooks, in addition to the drilling engineers.

A comprehensive program for mental health has been established including twice-daily prayer sessions, twice-daily talks with psychologists, and a kind of group therapy in which they meet to discuss disagreements, plans and achievements. Lunch is shared together at noon.

Television and films are shown for 13 hours each day. Though some miners requested them, sending down personal music players with headphones and handheld video games was ruled out, because those tend to isolate people from one another. The rescue effort's lead psychiatrist, Alberto Iturra Benavides said "With earphones, if they're listening to music and someone calls them, asking for help or to warn them about something, they're not available. What they need is to be together."

The men have been divided into three groups of 11 and they work in three shifts. They have assigned chores including cleaning up trash, emptying the toilet, removing the loose rock from the drilling, and attending to the capsules that are lowered to them with supplies. Tubes have pumped at least 100 litres of water a day, which has enabled the miners to take showers. Fresh air has been pumped down to slightly reduce the sweltering heat down below.

The extraordinary measures that have been taken to rescue these 33 miners in Chile is an example of how people can work together and how the knowledge and skill possessed by a variety of people can accomplish great things. It also demonstrates the worth of human life and the length that we can and must go to save and protect lives.

I am reminded of another phenomenal rescue centuries ago. God saw the plight of the Israelites in Egypt. He heard their cries for mercy and he delivered them and brought them to the Promised Land. Many years later God's love and compassion resulted in Jesus coming to the world to "seek and to save" humankind.

God loved us enough to make the ultimate sacrifice for our salvation. It is now our privilege and responsibility to do all we can to see that others know how much God values them. In gratitude we live and love so that others might be saved.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," Oct. 11, 2010. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]