SAN JOSE MINE, Chile, Oct. 12, 2010 -- The first of 33 Chilean miners has ascended to freedom from the underground chamber where the men have been entombed for 10 long weeks.
A cheer went up around 11:12 p.m. ET as Florencio Avalos emerged from a rescue capsule wearing a helmet and sunglasses to protect his eyes from the nighttime lights at the San Jose Mine in Chile.
Avalos proceeded to hug Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and other onlookers after emerging, according to TV images. He then was shown being wheeled away on a stretcher to a triage area where the rescued miners were to be assessed.
The rescues began after technicians performed a number of tests on the rescue capsule. Next, they lowered Manuel Rodriguez, a mining rescue expert with Chile's state copper company Codelco, down into the mine chamber, where he could be seen on a television hookup talking to the trapped men.
Rescuers soon started pulling up Avalos, a trip that took 15 minutes and 39 seconds, according to the Chilean TV channel Chilevision.
Authorities planned to pull one miner to freedom each hour, into the arms of waiting loved ones.
"We made a promise to never surrender, and we kept it," Pinera said at about 4:45 p.m. ET, or 5:45 p.m. local time, after arriving at the San Jose mine. "In only two hours more, the time will come that we have worked so hard for."
Chilean Minister of Mines Laurence Golborne initially said officials "hope to have at least one of our miners on the surface" before midnight. Later, however, officials said the rescues likely would be delayed a couple hours amid the logistical preparations.
"We are going all around the clock for 48 hours, the rescue process," Golborne said.
In the end, the first rescue did happen shortly after midnight Wednesday local time.
Testing the Fenix Capsule at the Mine
For the first two to three hours of the operation, officials ran tests of the steel Fenix rescue capsule, including runs up and down the rescue shaft with the capsule empty or containing rescue workers or equipment.
As the initial tests proceeded, rescue workers chanted a modified cheer popularized during Chile's World Cup soccer games: "Vamos, vamos chilenos, porque esta noche tenemos que ganar," the chant traditionally goes, which translates to, "Come on, come on Chileans, tonight we have to win."
In this case, the end of the chant was being modified to say, "Y los tenemos que sacar," which means, "And we've got to get them out."
They chanted other patriotic Chilean cheers over the course of the evening.
Trapped Chilean Miners Anticipate Freedom
Pinera told Avalos' mother that her son, trapped for 69 days, would be the first to be brought to the surface by the pulley system.
It's expected that the last man up will be Luis Urzua, the man who was shift foreman when the collapse occurred and has shown inspiring leadership throughout the ordeal.
"We began to talk to them about the proper order of rescue and they were fighting against us yesterday because every one of them wanted to be at the end of the line, not at the beginning," Chilean Minister of Health Jaime Manalich said Sunday.
Roads surrounding the mine were slated to be shut down at 7 p.m. ET to make room for an ambulance in case of emergency.
Officials said it would take about an hour for each miner to be rescued -- 25 minutes for the steel capsule to reach the miner and 15 minutes for the miner to ascend.
Rescue workers were giving themselves 48 hours to complete the mission of returning the men to their families.
Beforehand, the miners were readying themselves for the rescue. They were taking aspirin to reduce chances of clots when cramped in the capsule and they began a liquid diet to ease nausea.
Sources at the rescue site told ABC News that the men spent their final day underground signing souvenir Chilean flags for their rescue workers. They collected rocks and other mementoes to bring up with them at what has come to be called Camp Hope.
The men also are struggling with what will happen in their first few moments out of the mine and in the Chilean air. Officials want the men to be helicoptered to a hospital shortly after they surface, but the men have said they want to stay at the site as a group until everyone is succesfully lifted out of the mine.
Steel Capsule Tested Monday
The steel capsule designed to rescue the men was tested on Monday.
In its first test run down the drill shaft, the rescue capsule carrying sandbags worked exactly as intended. Officials stopped it just short of the chamber where the men have been trapped.
"The last 10 meters are not important. ... We couldn't risk that someone will jump in," Golborne said jokingly.
The rescue capsule leaves nothing to chance. A man riding inside was to wear an oxygen mask, his heartbeat and body temperature was to be monitored, and he was to wear a telephone headset to talk with the rescue team above.
Rescue Crews Prepare to Free Chilean Miners
Every second of the miners' ascent was to be monitored by video camera.
"This will alert us above ground if there is a problem," a rescue team member said.
If something goes wrong during a journey to the surface, there is an escape system that allows the miner to separate the capsule so that he can be lowered back into the mine.
When the men reach the surface, they were to wear sunglasses to protect their eyesight from the glare of daylight.
Officials also displayed the special clothing the men will wear for the ascent -- shirts with their names embroidered, as well as girdles and socks.
Families Wait at 'Camp Hope'
The miners' families were counting the final hours.
Liliana Ramirez, the wife of Mario Gomez, the oldest miner, said that she was anxious, but happy, too, that "that this nightmare is coming to an end."
The men, excited to see their loved ones, wanted to look their best. They asked for shampoo and shoe polish.
The tent city outside the mine gates was a carnival-like atmosphere as families and the massive international press corps counted down the hours until the miners' escape.
With so much of the world following every twist and turn in this complex rescue, the Chilean government was broadcasting a seven-camera live satellite feed of the rescue for all to see.
But Maria Jose Gomez just wanted to see her father the 63-year-old Mario Gomez.
When asked what her words would be to her father, Maria said in Spanish: "I believe at that moment there will be no words ... only hugs."
ABC News' Diana Alvear contributed to this report, as did The Associated Press and Reuters.