Trapped Miners in South Korea Survive Off of Only Coffee for 9 Days

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by andresr via Getty Images)

On October 26, two miners ventured deep into a zinc mine in Bonghwa, South Korea, for what they thought would be a typical day at work. Soon after they arrived at their destination, however, the walls began to shake. To their horror, the mine was collapsing, 900 tons of debris falling all around them, trapping the men over 600 feet beneath the earth.

One of the miners, a 56-year-old who gave only a surname, Park, explained that he had been working for the mining firm for a mere four days before the accident. The new miner was so shocked by the sudden collapse of the tunnel that he couldn’t feel his limbs.

“My head was paralyzed and I couldn’t think rationally,” Park tearfully recalled to The Korea Times. “But I survived because I could rely on my superior who had many years of experience as a miner.”

With 25 years of experience in the mines of South Korea, his superior, 62-year-old Park Jeong-ha, wasted no time in his life-saving efforts, although he was no doubt shaken by the collapse as well. Using tips he remembered from a survival manual, the elder Park prepared a shelter for the men.

With the help of his companion, Park created a makeshift shelter with vinyl coverings, blocking the icy wind howling through the vertical shaft. The miners barely knew each other, but they both understood that they had to rely on one another to survive.

Miners Trapped for Nine Days in Collapsed Mineshaft

The men then surveyed their supplies, finding they had 4 liters of fresh water, 18 packs of instant coffee, and an electric water heater. They somehow managed to create a bonfire using wooden planks in the mine. Unfortunately, however, the fire blazed too hot, melting the heater’s plastic covering and rendering it unusable.

The miners did their best to ration their remaining water. After three days, however, the precious little fresh water they had was gone. Dehydrated and desperate, they began collecting the water dripping down the walls with their bottles. With no choice but to drink the groundwater without boiling it, the younger miner vomited twice attempting to hydrate.

While slowly starving to death, the miners never gave up their attempts to break out of the terrifying mine. “We dug about 10 meters but gave up after seeing no signs of meeting any path for escape,” the younger Park said. “Countless times we climbed up a rocky heap about 70 degrees to handpick our way through but kept sliding down unsuccessfully.”

“We had 20 explosives and used them over two times to blow up the rocks,” he continued. “But it did little and didn’t help with creating an escape path. We took turns clanging on pipes in the tunnel to make sounds to the outside world for about 30 to 40 minutes each time but there were no signs of a response.”

Fellow Workers Come to the Rescue

After five days trapped in the cold darkness, the miners heard explosions in the distance. The explosions grew louder and louder with the passing days, confirming to the trapped men that their coworkers were coming to rescue them. Eight days passed, leaving the younger miner certain of death.

The elder Park, however, says he never gave up hope of rescue. In his many years as a miner, he had never seen a man left behind. “We miners have nothing,” he said. “We are just a bunch of poor men with nothing to lose. But we are incredibly resilient and watch our friends’ backs. That gave me hope for rescue.”

On the ninth day, the explosions grew to a deafening pitch. And finally, a ray of sunshine broke through the damp, dark stone. A fellow miner broke through the rubble, finding his friend at long last and embracing the elder Park, who fell to his knees, overcome with emotion. “I’m alive, thank you,” he said.