Chile mine rescue mission update - pictures
Families and rescuers were celebrating today as trapped miners steadily emerged from their half-mile-deep dungeon under the Chilean desert.
Eleven men - one third of the 33 trapped since early August - were pulled from the mine at a methodical pace.
The 11th - 55-year-old Jorge Galleguillos - came up into the desert sun just over 10 hours after the rescue capsule dubbed "Phoenix" extracted the first miner.
The miners jubilantly embraced wives, children and rescuers and looked remarkably composed after languishing for 69 days in the depths of a mine that easily could have been their tomb.
The anxiety that had accompanied the final days of preparation melted away at 12:11 a.m. when the stoutest of the men, Florencio Avalos, emerged from the missile-like rescue capsule smiling broadly after his half-mile journey to the surface.
In a din of cheers, he hugged his sobbing seven-year-old son and wife and then President Sebastian Pinera, who has been deeply involved in an effort that had become a matter of national pride.
The most ebullient of the bunch came out second, an hour later.
"I think I had extraordinary luck. I was with God and with the devil. And I reached out for God," said Mario Sepulveda as he awaited the air force helicopter ride to a nearby hospital where all the miners were to spend 48 hours under medical observation.
Eleven men were pulled from the mine at a methodical pace in roughly the first nine and a half hours of the operation, putting the rescue on track to end before the sun rises on Thursday, barring any major glitches.
The miners have survived more time trapped underground than anyone on record, and the world was captivated by their endurance and unity as officials carefully planned their rescue.
Health Minister Jaime Manalich told a news conference after eight miners were rescued that all of them were in good health, and none has needed any special medication, not even the diabetic among them.
Chile exploded in joy and relief at the first, breakthrough rescue just after midnight in the coastal Atacama desert.
In the capital, Santiago, a cacophony of motorists’ horns sounded. In the nearby regional capital of Copiapo, from which 24 of the miners hail, the mayor cancelled school so parents and children could "watch the rescue in the warmth of the home."
All-news channels from North America to Europe and the Middle East carried live coverage. Pope Benedict XVI said in Spanish that he "continues with hope to entrust to God’s goodness" the fate of the men. Iran’s state English-language Press TV followed events live until President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad touched down in Lebanon on his first state visit there.
After the fifth miner made his ascent, the rescuers paused to lubricate the spring-loaded wheels that gave the 13-foot-tall capsule a smooth ride through the shaft. Then they brought up the sixth and seventh.
The ninth, Mario Gomez, who at 63 is the oldest miner, came up about an hour later and dropped to his knees and bowed his head in prayer. His wife, Lilianette Ramirez, pulled him up from the ground and embraced him. Gomez has silicosis, a lung disease common to miners, and has been on antibiotics and bronchial inflammation medicine.
The entire rescue operation was meticulously choreographed, with no expense spared in bringing in topflight drillers and equipment - and boring three separate holes into the copper and gold mine.