For more than two months, the 33 trapped miners have called the confines of their gold and copper mine home, but once out of the shaft, they’ll face challenges so extraordinary, no amount of coaching can fully prepare them.
The men will be celebrated as heroes, some will even become celebrities. But eventually a new reality will set in---and for most, it won’t be anything like the life they knew before the mine collapsed above their heads on that fateful day.
“Before being heroes, they are victims,” University of Santiago psychologist Sergio Gonzáles told the Associated Press. “These people who are coming out of the bottom of the miner are different people….and their families are too.
A tentative but secret list has been drafted regarding which miners should come out first when the extraction begins in a rescue capsule, probably on Wednesday.
One by one they will take a twisting, 20-minute ride the half-mile up to a rock-strewn desert moonscape and into the embrace of those they love. The capsule is expected to rotate 350 degrees some 10 to 12 times through curves in the 28-inch-diameter escape hole on its way up (Click Here for Animation).
Chile's government has promised each miner at least six months of psychological support.
"All of them will have to confront the media and fame, and will encounter families that aren't the same as when they were trapped," Health Minister Jaime Manalich said. "All of them will live through very difficult situations of adaptation."
At first they'll feel besieged, poorly treated by the media and perhaps overwhelmed by even the attention of their own families, predicted Dr. Claus Behn, a University of Chile physiologist with expertise on disorders stemming from surviving extreme situations. Society will "demand to know every minute detail, and they're going to offer enormous quantities of money and popularity."
The problem with being a hero is that "if you look down from the mountaintop, all you see is the abyss. It would make anyone feel vertigo," Behn said.
The miners have had the support of a team of psychologists while underground, but that was designed mostly to help them endure the extreme conditions.
Last week, they also got an hour a day of training in dealing with the media, including practice with "ugly, bad and indiscreet" questions about their time underground, their personal lives and their families, said Alejandro Pino, a former reporter who was part of a support team provided by Chile's workplace insurance association.
"I see them doing extraordinarily well," Pino said. "They're ready."
The miners do seem happy in videos they filmed and sent to the surface. Some even joked around as they showed off their underground home.
But others have avoided the exposure. And while Manalich insists that the miners are unified, reflecting the disciplined teamwork that helped them survive, all that could change quickly once they are out.
Already, relations within and between their families have become strained as some seem to be getting more money and attention than others.
A philanthropic Chilean mining executive, Leonardo Farkas, gave $10,000 checks in the miners' names to each of the 33 families, and set up a fund to collect donations. Co-workers who weren't trapped, but were left out of a job — including some who narrowly escaped getting crushed in the collapse — wonder if they'll be taken care of, too.
One miner's child was invited onto a Chilean TV game show where she earned thousands of dollars, and 27 of the 33 workers have filed a $10 million negligence lawsuit against the mine's owners. A similar suit against government regulators is planned. And then there are deals for books, movies and personal appearances.
The money rush will be intense — and temporary. The government required each miner to designate someone to receive their $1,600 monthly salary, and opened bank accounts for them that only the miners themselves can access. But Behn said the miners need good financial advice as well so that it doesn't melt away.
They've been invited to visit presidential palaces, take all-expense paid vacations and appear on countless TV shows. Contracts for book and movie deals are pending, along with job offers. More money than they could dream of is already awaiting their signature.
"If they're getting now a violent inflow of money, it should be administered so that it can serve them for the rest of their lives. And meanwhile, they should not for any reason give up their regular work habits," Behn said.
What often happens after situations of extreme isolation is that the survivor tells everything all at once, and when there's nothing left to say, misunderstandings begin. Instead, Behn advises taking things slowly, gradually reuniting with family and friends and trying to contain their expectations. Otherwise, "they're going to have really emotional storms that won't do anybody any good."
Manalich said the miners seem incredibly unified. Some of their relatives also expressed hope that the bonds they've formed below will enable them to lean on each other in the future.
Brandon Fisher, president of Center Rock, Inc., doubts that. He has been closely involved in this rescue — his company's drill hammers pounded the escape shaft.
"They're in for the surprise of their lives. From here on out, their lives will have changed," Fisher predicted. "There aren't too many of those guys who get along because of all the attention, the lawsuits, the movie deals. Once money gets involved it gets ugly."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.