This past week, we all watched joyously as the 33 Chilean miners were pulled alive from the depths of the earth that had entrapped them for 69 days.
It was back on August 5th when the copper mine in Copiapo, Chile collapsed, leaving 33 men trapped 2,300 feet below the earth’s surface. Seventeen days passed before rescuers received any sign of life, when the eighth test bore drill came back to the surface with notes attached to the drill bit stating that 33 miners were indeed alive.
At that point, the world rallied to help Chilean officials and mine experts craft complex plans to rescue the miners. Three drill plans — A, B, and C — were launched using different drilling technologies in an effort to reach the miners with a shaft just large enough for their escape. Meanwhile, medicine, liquid food, and oxygen were sent nearly half a mile down via the tiny bore hole as the three drilling rigs worked for weeks around the clock.
NASA developed and built a special transport cylinder to bring the miners to the surface that was a mere 21 inches in diameter inside. Some miners, who had lost over 20 pounds during the first 17 days, were later put on a special diet to ensure that each could fit into the slender rescue tube. Miners were also put on an exercise regimen to minimize muscle atrophy. Mental health experts were consulted on how to engage the miners in certain routines to address the severe mental stress from the ordeal.
In the end, it was the “Plan B” drill that finally reached the small refuge area on October 9th where the miners were located. The “Plan B” drill used a special drill bit from a Pennsylvania company with a hammering mechanism never before used by the Chilean mining industry.
The Chilean government, including its President and its Mining Minister, deserve a lot of credit for the unprecedented rescue. Against enormous odds, they put together a plan of action that embraced both the known and the unknown, while giving themselves necessary contingencies. They also were willing to accept critical input, assistance, and know-how from around the globe, yet remained in control of one of the most complex and intensive rescue operations in history. They proceeded to relentlessly pursue their plan, and 33 lives were saved as a result.
It is a tribute to human ingenuity and the human ideal. When lives are at stake, I marvel at what humans can do when working together.
Corporate executives can learn from this survival phenomenon. The last two years have brought near-death experiences to many companies around the globe. Those companies whose managers and employees rally together, stay focused, and design necessary contingencies are more apt to come out of their hole alive.
It ultimately just might be your “Plan B” that saves your company.