As rescue nears, trapped Chilean miners prepare to deal with media spotlight

Rescue operation to save 33 miners, trapped for more than two months in a collapsed copper mine, reaches the final stages.
By Jonathan Franklin
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; 10:48 PM

IN SANTIAGO, CHILE The 33 men who have been trapped in a Chilean mine for the past six weeks are preparing for a new odyssey: confronting sudden celebrity.

With three holes being carved into the mountainside, rescuers appear increasingly optimistic that the miners will be freed in a month in what is expected to be a highly publicized event. After weeks of isolation, officials say, the men will soon be mobbed by the media, courted by Hollywood and stalked by paparazzi.

Psychologists and rescue workers are rushing to teach the men how best to handle their foray into the fame machine. The miners will be taught how to deal with reporters as well as the basics of opening a bank account and personal financial management.

"Many of these guys have very limited and informal education," said Jorge Diaz, a member of the rescue team, who described the men as "well prepared" for the world of mining but not as ready for the fame awaiting them.

One of the miners, foreman Luis Urzua, "has technical training and we won't be teaching him how to open a bank account," Diaz said, "but the rest of the group?"

A half-dozen documentaries are in production - including the Discovery Channel's look at the mechanics of the rescue and a planned HBO program. Tabloids are reaching out to families, offering thousands of dollars for the first interview, and hotels in the usually sleepy mining town of Copiapo are full.

Alberto Iturra, the lead psychologist for the miners, and Alejandro Pino, a former radio journalist, will train the men trapped at the San Jose mine via closed-circuit TV. They will be taught to remain poised during interviews, to ask the interviewer to repeat the question if they don't understand it, "and how to say that they prefer not to answer," said Iturra, who has counseled the men for weeks.

Experts working with the miners say it will be difficult to shield them from the media onslaught after their release - now estimated for mid-October.

One of the miners, Mario Sepulvedra, who narrated a video from below, "is going to have a huge opportunity in TV. . . . Obviously there is going to be huge interest in working with him," Diaz said.

Sepulvedra wowed an international audience with his relaxed, informative and dramatic narration of an underground video in which the miners showcased with pride their precarious world.

The media attention at the mine is influencing the rescue operation: A "media platform" half the size of a football field has been built at the scene to accommodate the estimated 500 to 1,000 reporters expected to flood the usually abandoned corner of the Atacama Desert.

The rescue effort involves strapping the men inside a torpedo-shaped capsule - dubbed the Phoenix - and winching them one by one up a 700-meter shaft. The miners will then be flown by helicopter to a nearby military base.

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