Chilean Miners Contemplated Suicide, Cannibalism

(CBS)  Victor Zamora says he’d rather be dead. It takes six pills a day for Alex Zega to be able to talk to people, but he says the slightest sound startles him and he still can’t concentrate on work or go into a small space. Mario Sepulveda, once the miners’ exuberant leader, is on heavy medication these days.

Four months after 33 Chilean miners were rescued from a half-mile underground – where they lived in daily fear of death for 69 days – doctors say all but one of them have experienced serious psychological problems.

Bob Simon interviewed several of them for a “60 Minutes” report to be broadcast this Sunday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

After two weeks of rationing an inadequate emergency food supply, the 33 were down to one can of tuna, a staple they had been eating just one teaspoon each every 48 hours. “I said to a friend, ‘Well, if we are going to continue suffering, it would be better for us to all go to the refuge, start an engine and with the carbon monoxide, just let ourselves go,'” says Zamora, who thinks all of them would have gone along with that had rescuers not sunk a shaft near them at day 16. He did not consider it suicide. “It was to not continue suffering. We were going to die anyway,” he tells Simon.

At about the same time, another thought crossed the minds of the miners says Jonathan Franklin, who has spoken with all of “los 33” for his new book, “33 Men.” He recalls a miner saying his comrades joked with him that if he died in his sleep, he would be “breakfast, lunch and dinner.” It was no joke, says Sepulveda, there was no more food. “I would say five or 10 days [before they would have resorted to cannibalism to survive],” he says, the urge to live driving him to think the unthinkable. “Food or no food, I was going to get out of there…I had to think about which miner was going to collapse first and then I started thinking about how I was going to eat him…I wasn’t embarrassed, I wasn’t scared.”

Says Franklin, “[Miners] told me they had a pot and a saw ready.”

Most of the men are paying the price now. Vega, a mining mechanic, is building a wall around his home but he cannot explain why. The anxiety continues despite his medication and he he worries about his future. “I’ve tried to work fixing a car, but I lose my concentration very quickly. I forget things…”

Why does Zamora say he prefers death to life? “I can’t have a normal relationship with my family. I’m not as affectionate with my child,” he tells Simon while standing at the mine entrance. “Before I went in, I was a happy guy,” says Zamora, who now suffers nightmares. “Being trapped, watching my friends around me die, rocks falling,” he says. “The other me is still in there.”


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