Posted by: Trisha Leigh | August 27, 2010

When Reality Reflects Fiction – Run Like Hell

Thirty-three miners, ranging in age from eighteen to sixty-three, are trapped 2300 feet (688 meters) underground in a Chilean copper mine. They live in a space the size of a small apartment, and have fashioned dim lighting and uncovered a source of fresh water. It’s over 90 degrees.

Sounds like the tagline for a book or movie, right?

As most of you know, it’s not. It’s real.

Government probes located the miners and verified their physical health after 17 days of searching. Now that the people above know they are alive, they receive food, medicine, and psychological examinations. They can talk to their loved ones.

But it’s going to take up to 4 months to get them out. FOUR MONTHS.

Do you know how long 4 months is, what could happen, how insane someone is likely to go?

I’d be shocked if Hollywood or SOMEONE isn’t inspired by the wretchedness of their situation. I kind of am, in a grotesque and disturbed way.

We are all going to be waiting, listening for the news that someone snapped, that people have been murdered, restrained, fallen ill to a contagious disease that wipes everyone else out. Every science fiction novel I’ve ever read that involves a large number of people in a contained space, a previously unknown but rapidly spreading infectious disease, or the dark recesses of the human psyche is running through my mind.

The situation is dire; put yourself in their place for a moment. Buried. Over half a mile underground. You’re not alone, but with 32 other people in a relatively small space. There is no privacy. Limited options on attending to personal hygiene. Food, water, and communication, but nothing to take up the long hours. After a few weeks, dissention. Someone, maybe just one person, starts to believe the people above aren’t coming for them at all. Are lying about being able to get them out. Maybe he talks to the others, plants seeds of panic with the assertion that they will all die down there. Those seeds sprout; contain the potential to grow into the plants of panic, terror, distrust, mutiny, and violence.

So we watch. We wait to find out if these 33 human beings, thrust into a situation that would drive anyone to the brink, can cling to their humanity for the next 120 days.

We wonder – or we should be wondering – why on earth they are down there to begin with. We’ve sent men to the moon. Developed immunizations for deadly diseases. Explored the manipulation of genetic makeup. Built and perfected air travel. Stream video into people’s homes through their gaming systems. Communicate with one another across an entire planet in seconds.

And you’re telling me no one can figure out how to automate mining so that thousands of people don’t die underground, entombed and left behind, each year? Or, if the job loss aspect concerns you, to simply come up with a way to make it safe. Reinforce the mines? Build more Chipotle’s and give the workers jobs there? (Because seriously, there cannot be too many Chipotle’s)

It’s ridiculous. It’s one of the few industries in which the United States remains as complacent about workers’ safety as the rest of the world.

For those 33 men, and all the miners who will be buried alive this year, I hope the end of their story is a happy one – and maybe, finally, brings about change.



  1. I’d heard about this situation only in passing. I didn’t realize they were trapped. What a horrible fate.

    • It makes me really, really angry that there are still people enduring things like this in a world full of technology.

  2. I hadn’t seen the news yet! I really hope and pray they come out alive and it does bring about change.

    • Don’t read about it too much if you’re claustrophobic. It gives me the shakes just THINKING about being down there.

  3. I thought the same as you: what a story these men will be able to tell. I’m totally confident they’ll get through all right because they can communicate to the outside world, and these guys are obviously very, very tough.

    I may be wrong, but I believe the majority of mining deaths occur in China. It’s not a question of technology but economics. The reality for many countries is that people are cheaper then machines.

    • You are right about them being tough. It’s not like someone like me is stuck down there. I would have already lost it, but they’re going in with a skill set, personality, and mental toughness they’ve developed over the course of their careers. They have good leaders and communications.

      I wish I could be as confident as you but I’m just not. Four months in those conditions is a really, really long time.

      I know what you’re saying about people being cheaper (although we did have a mining incident in the US…last year, maybe?) but I hate the truth of the situation. I have the same issues with the garment industry in Asia and their propensity to kill young girls in fires; deaths that could be easily (and even cheaply) avoided. As “first world” countries we solve the issues on our own soil, but look the other direction or choose not to see them elsewhere. We still buy the products made in factories and mined from the soil in places who exploit workers – even kill them – to bring us a cheaper product.

      It may be the way things are, but it’s not right. And I hate it.

  4. I am claustrophobic. And yet, in my younger days, I was an avid spelunker. In the 80s, I spent many a Saturday wriggling through holes barely big enough to fit through in order to get into that next, unknown chamber. The reptilian fear was worth the payoff.

    You know those scenes in thriller movies where the hero and heroine are faced with swimming through a tunnel of water, or dying? I swam through that tunnel for fun. In real life, it’s a lot darker and a lot tighter, but probably doesn’t have nearly as many aliens or sharks chasing after you.

    I haven’t been spelunking in over 20 years, but when I first saw this story, my mind immediately snapped back to the weird mix of terror and elation being underground once held for me. Then I thought about not being able to get out, and the sense of elation faded. To think, I did that to myself for fun.

    I hope these men can come through. What a nightmare. And what we do to the poor and desperate in this world in pursuit of digits in a bank account.

    • Wow, I didn’t know that about you! Spelunking is such a fun word, isn’t it? I’m not terribly claustrophobic, but something about the idea of being buried just sends little bursts of panic through me. I’m not sure I could spelunk. What did you like about it? The lure of the unexplored? The potential discovery on the other side of every dark tunnel? I could see that. I enjoy scuba diving for the same reason and it has it’s own inherent danger.

      I hope there’s no aliens or sharks in that copper mine. I really do.

  5. I agree completely, just look at the plot of Sphere, unless of course you haven’t read Sci-Fi that old and I just dated myself, in which case: ignore me.

    • I’ve totally read Sphere! What kind of science fiction writer would I be if I hadn’t read MIchael Crichton??

      Great book. The movie was awful, but what’re you going to do?

      • In that case, I might as well reference The Descent, the original Dawn of the Dead (where other survivors in enclosed spaces are more dangerous than the zombies outside), and the song )) Louds by He Is Legend (obscure, and probably outside of your listening genre).

        Also, how am I supposed to know you’re a science fiction author if your Stories tab is more or less empty?

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