Flawless Escape: All Chilean Miners Raised Safely in Miracle Rescue

All 33 Chilean miners were pulled to freedom after being trapped for 69 days.

October 13, 2010, 8:47 PM

Oct. 14, 2010— -- Rescuers in Chile have pulled off what has never been done before. They have safely extracted all 33 men trapped for 70 days inside the San Jose mine -- the longest miners have ever been underground and lived to tell about it.

Now the men are resting, recovering, rejoicing in a specially outfitted ward at the Copiapo Hospital. Soon they'll step into a world where they will be sought-after celebrities, but also dealing with the physical and psychological aftermath of their captivity.

One by one, all 33 Chilean miners were raised safely to freedom Wednesday.

The miners survived being trapped underground for 10 weeks -- by far the longest time ever before a successful rescue. They were able to survive because of their location in an uncollapsed part of the gold and copper mine, where rescuers were able to bore a hole large enough to send down food and supplies.

Today, they are heroes to a very proud nation.

"Thank you to everyone, said miner Luis Urzua, in Spanish. "I feel proud to be Chilean."

Urzua was the last miner to emerge from the rescue capsule, exiting at around 9:57 p.m. local time.

He served as the shift foreman before the mine collapsed on Aug. 5 and continued to lead his crew after the catastrophe.

"We have done what the entire world was waiting for," Urzua told Chilean President Sebastian Pinera after his rescue, according to an Associated Press translation. "The 70 days that we fought so hard were not in vain. We had strength, we had spirit, we wanted to fight, we wanted to fight for our families, and that was the greatest thing."

Urzua's leadership and discipline is credited with helping to preserve the men's lives.

President Pinera praised Urzua's actions. "You were the last one out like a good captain," he said in Spanish.

The president, with Urzua beside him, then led the crowd in singing the national anthem.

After Urzua, only members of the rescue crew remained below in the mine.

By 11:30 p.m. ET, the last rescuer was hoisted back to surface -- ending the more than two-month ordeal for both the miners and their families.

The first miner surfaced shortly after midnight local time Wednesday, and the painstaking extractions continued overnight and throughout the day.

The well-oiled operation picked up speed as it went on, with miners eventually surfacing from the 28-inch-diameter hole nearly every half hour.

For the first two to three hours of the operation, officials ran tests of the steel Phoenix rescue capsule, including runs up and down the rescue shaft with the capsule empty or containing rescue workers or equipment.

"It was a miracle, because on the first day the odds were against us," Pinera said. "At the end of the day, the miners were in the hands of God."

For a video slideshow of the dramatic rescue efforts, click here. The videos show each mine worker at the moment they leave the capsule and embrace their loved ones.

Joyous Celebrations and a Return to Reality

A raucous cheer went up shortly after midnight local time as the first miner, Florencio Avalos, emerged from a rescue capsule wearing a helmet and sunglasses to protect his eyes from the nighttime lights.

Waiting on the surface was a crowd of hundreds, including family members and reporters. Some have stood vigil since the mine collapse.

A second miner, Mario Sepulveda, 40, stepped out of the rescue capsule around an hour later.

After hugging his wife, he reached into a bag and pulled out rocks -- souvenirs of the mine that was his prison for more than two months. Sepulveda gave them to Chile's president and the rescue workers.

The oldest of the miners, 63-year-old Mario Gomez, presented one of the greatest health concerns for officials, but seemed fairly healthy when he happily emerged.

Gomez hugged his family as he stepped out of the rescue capsule and, before leaving the site, dropped to his knees and prayed.

Sriel Ticona, the second to last man hoisted to safety, finally got to meet his baby daughter.

She was born while he was trapped underground. They called her Esperanza, meaning hope in Spanish.

But for one miner, it was a dose of harsh reality.

Yonni Barros, who has been married for 28 years, was not greeted by his wife but by his mistress.

His wife refused to greet him when he emerged from the rescue capsule.

Worldwide Praise for Miracle Rescue

The Chilean rescue effort has drawn praise from around the world, and President Pinera said his country's experience could provide valuable lessons on disaster response.

"In our case, we didn't waste a second. From the very first moment, we decided to take full responsibility for the rescue effort," Pinera said. "Second lesson, never lose your faith and hope. Never give up!"

On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama spoke about the miners in the White House Rose Garden, noting the "joy of people everywhere" at the news of each successful rescue.

"This rescue is a tribute not only to the determination of the rescue workers and the Chilean government but also of the Chilean people, who have inspired the world," Obama said. "I want to express the hopes of the American people that the miners who are still trapped underground will be returned home safely as soon as possible

ABC News Diana Alvear, Lee Ferran, Michael S. James and Leezel Tanglao contributed to this report, as did The Associated Press and Reuters.

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