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How did Chile's trapped miners survive?

A two-month ordeal after a cave-in appears near ending for 33 trapped miners, as they prepare on Tuesday to travel to the surface via a shaft drilled through solid rock and just wider than a man's shoulders

world Updated: Oct 13, 2010 10:59 IST

A two-month ordeal after a cave-in appears near ending for 33 trapped miners, as they prepare on Tuesday to travel to the surface via a shaft drilled through solid rock and just wider than a man's shoulders.

With ingenuity and cutting-edge technology, the men have survived 68 days some 2,050 feet (625 metres) underground fending off hunger, anxiety and illness in a record-setting feat of survival.

What did they eat?

From the Aug. 5 cave-in until they established contact with the surface 17 days later, the miners rationed themselves to two spoonfuls of tuna, half a cookie and a half-full glass of milk every 48 hours.

Once rescuers on the surface discovered the men with a narrow perforation drill, they began sending them hydration gel, soup and medication in narrow plastic tubes called "doves."

Later, doctors transitioned the men to a solid diet including meat and rice, with a strict 2,200 calorie diet to keep them slim enough to fit in the evacuation shaft just two feet (66 cm) in diameter.

In the tunnel near the shelter where the men initially took refuge, they set up a chemical toilet and latrines, along with a duct providing potable water.

How did they communicate?

The first sign of life from the miners came on Aug. 22, when knocking was heard on a drill head as it reached the depths of the mine. Rescuers withdrew the drill to find a note attached reading, "The 33 of us in the shelter are well."

Once the first bore hole established a lifeline to the men, letters began to pass between loved ones via the "doves." Later came a fiber optic line enabling phone calls and videoconferencing.

Doctors were also able to pass down a biometric belt which allowed the miners to monitor and transmit their vital signs to the surface using wireless technology.

What was their routine?

Once they were discovered, the men quickly established a regular meal schedule including breakfast, lunch, dinner and an afternoon tea.

Supported by a 500 watt power line, they installed lights to simulate day and night to diminish the impact of their eventual return to the surface.

Physiologists set up obligatory exercise schedules to keep the men fit for their trying passage up the escape shaft, when they may have to hold the same posture for as much as an hour.

In recent weeks, the miners began to help with the drilling process, taking shifts to clear away debris that fell into the tunnel of the mine.

How did they entertain themselves?

Several of the men are football fanatics and one has even played professionally, so despite their isolation they managed to install a live feed of games like Chile's friendly match against Ukraine to watch using a small projector.

They have also received videos of football greats like Pele and Maradona and set up an area of their refuge for a small "casino" where they play cards, dominoes and dice games.

In recent weeks psychologists on the surface gave permission for them to get recent editions of national newspapers.

The miners have also received small music players and speakers as well as Bibles and rosaries blessed by Pope Benedict.

The smokers have made do with patches and nicotine gum.

One of the miners' most relished gifts was a small high-definition video camera with which they've recorded a large part of their ordeal. Despite the hazards they confront, the men have maintained high spirits and the most distinguished humorists among them have dispatched eight hours of their favorite jokes on film.