The 33 miners trapped by a cave-in at a mine in northern Chile have been told they may be stuck underground for four more months.
“We were able to tell them … they would not be rescued before the Fiestas Patrias [Chile’s September 18 Independence Day celebrations], and that we hoped to get them out before Christmas,” Health Minister Jaime Manalich said Wednesday, according to Agence France-Presse. He added that the men — who are trapped 2,300 feet below the surface — didn’t panic after hearing the timetable, but warned that they could suffer “a period of depression, anguish and severe malaise” in the coming days.
Speaking to the men via a microphone lowered into the mine, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera promised to reunite the workers with their families. “Mr. President,” said the miners’ leader Luis Urzua, according to the BBC, “we need you to be strong and to rescue us as soon as possible. Don’t abandon us.”
“You will not be left alone, you have not been alone,” Pinera responded. “The government is with you all, the entire country is with you all.”
Officials held back the bleak news about the lengthy rescue process after the workers were discovered alive in a shelter on Sunday. That was 17 days after the collapse of the gold and copper mine’s main access tunnel. They had worried that the information would shatter the men’s morale. Until then, they had been surviving on a near-starvation diet.
In an effort to keep up the workers’ psychological and physical health over the coming months, authorities are now developing a special exercise and recreation routine modeled on a NASA program. “This situation is very similar to that of the astronauts who are in space stations for months,” Manalich said, according to The Santiago Times, adding that Chilean authorities had been in contact with the U.S. space agency.