Rescued Chilean miners emerge

Last updated 16:39 14/10/2010

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The first of six rescue workers who went down to bring out 33 trapped miners is the last person to get back to the surface, leaving behind an empty, wrecked mine.

All of Chile's trapped miners have been rescued in a special capsule as an extraordinary two-month survival story many call a miracle triggered wild celebrations.

Manuel Gonzalez waited alone a half-mile down for 26 minutes while the escape capsule went up and came back down for him. He talked by phone with other rescuers at the top while waiting, joking that he was praying the capsule showed up.

A video feed showed him gesture triumphantly, then bow before making an awkward climb into the capsule, drawing cries of "Careful! Careful!" from those at the surface. Then he strapped himself in and shut the door before disappearing up the shaft.

In all, the operation took just over 24 hours after the first miner was pulled out at 12.11am Wednesday, a marathon broadcast on live television that captivated the world.

The intricately planned rescue moved with remarkable speed - and flawless execution - in ending history's longest underground entrapment.

Luis Urzua, 54, who was leading the shift at the time of the collapse, was the last of the miners to travel through 625 metres of rock to the surface in a capsule barely wider than a man's shoulders.

Celebrations erupted across the country as he emerged to a hero's welcome above the San Jose gold and copper mine in Chile's northern Atacama desert, wearing his hard-hat and dark shades to protect his eyes after spending 69 days in a dimly-lit tunnel.

Urzua beamed as an elated crowd chanted, yelled, sobbed and waved red, white and blue Chilean flags. The miners have set a new world record for survival trapped underground.

Rescue workers opened the capsule door and hugged Urzua, who had insisted throughout that he would not leave the tunnel until all the other miners were safely evacuated.

They are now all safe, thanks to a meticulously-planned rescue operation that went quicker and more smoothly than anyone dared to believe.

The rescue workers who travelled the down the shaft to help evacuate them were winched to the surface in the metal capsule, named Phoenix after the mythical bird that rose from the ashes.

Church bells rang out in Chile when the first miner was extricated and Chileans were glued to their televisions, proud of their nation's ability to save the men in a world class rescue operation.

"This was the toughest match of my life," said Franklin Lobos, a former professional soccer player who turned to mining and driving a taxi to make ends meet, as he emerged from the mine.

The miners were whisked away for medical check ups and were found to be in good health, except for one who has pneumonia and is being treated with antibiotics.

"This is a miracle from God," said Alberto Avalos, the uncle of Florencio Avalos, a father of two who was the first to emerge shortly after midnight.

Euphoric rescuers, relatives and friends broke into cheers - and tears - as the miners emerged to breathe fresh air for the first time since the mine caved in on Aug 5.

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They were all initially believed to be dead but rescue teams found the men 17 days after the collapse with a bore hole the width of a grapefruit. The tiny hole then became an umbilical cord used to pass hydration gels, water and food to keep them alive during one of the world's most ambitious rescue operations.

Their story of survival captured global attention. Some 1500 journalists were at the mine to report on the rescue operation, which was broadcast live around the world, including dramatic live images of the miners hugging rescuers who travelled down the shaft to their refuge deep in the mine.

The flawless rescue was a big success for Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who waited at the mouth of the shaft through the night and day to greet and hug the men as they emerged from the red, white and blue capsule - the Chilean colours.

Pinera, a billionaire entrepreneur who took office in March, ordered an overhaul of Chile's mine safety regulations after the accident. His popularity ratings have surged and his government has won praise for its handling of the crisis.

Among millions of people who watched television coverage of the rescue of the first miner was US President Barack Obama, who hailed the operation as an inspiration to the world.

"This rescue is a tribute not only to the determination of the rescue workers and the Chilean government but also the unity and resolve of the Chilean people who have inspired the world," Obama said in Washington.

Thirty-two of the miners are Chilean but one is from neighbouring Bolivia and the rescue has helped improve ties between the two countries, locked in a bitter dispute for more than a century over Bolivia's demands for access to the Pacific.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales was at the mine to welcome the Bolivian miner, Carlos Mamani, as he was lifted to safety and he thanked Pinera and his government for rescuing him.

Chile will continue to shut old, decrepit mines after the miners' saga, but the clampdown is unlikely to hit output in the world's top copper producer, industry insiders say.

The mining industry has played a central and often tragic role in Latin American history, starting with the hunger for gold and silver that drove the Spanish conquest and led to the enslavement of indigenous peoples.

For centuries, conditions in Latin American mines were miserable but they have improved dramatically in recent decades and the industry has over the past 10 years helped fuel a boom in some of the region's economies, including Chile.

ONE-BY-ONE THEY EMERGED

* Luis Urzua is the final man to be pulled to safety.

* Ariel Ticona arives at the surface, the 32nd freed miner.

* Pedro Cortez emerges smiling from Chilean mine, the 31st man freed.

* Raul Bustos, 40, is the 30th man. He is a hydraulic engineer and was caught up in both of Chile's two recent tragedies. The tsunami caused by February's earthquake destroyed the shipyard where he worked. So he journeyed north to work in the mine two months before he was trapped there. He would travel back 20 hours by bus to visit his wife and two children.

* Juan Carlos Aguilar, 46, is the twenty-ninth man. He has worked as a miner since he was 19. He is married with two children.

* Richard Villaroel, 23, is the twenty-eighth man. He is returning to his wife, who is in the late stages of pregnancy.

* Franklin Lobos, 53, is the twenty-seventh man. He is a former professional soccer player, drove the bus that carried the miners to work. Lobos was a midfielder on the Chilean teams La Serena, Iquique and Cobresal, and was on the national team that qualified for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He has two daughters.

* Claudio Acuna is the twenty-sixth man to reach the surface. He celebrated his birthday inside the mine on September 9 and proposed to his girlfriend Fabiola Araya from below ground. He has two children.

* The twenty-fifth man to arrive at the surface is Renan Avalos, 29.

*The twenty-fourth miner, Jose Henriquez has arrived safely at the surface.

* The twenty-third man to be rescued is 27-year-old Carlos Bugueno.

* Samuel Avalos, 43, is the twenty-second miner to be transported safely to the surface in the 'Phoenix' capsule.

* The twenty-first miner, Yonni Barrios, was known as 'the doctor' below ground because of his medical knowledge.

* The twentieth man to arrive above ground is Dario Segovia, 48.

* The nineteenth miner, Pablo Rojas, has emerged after ten weeks underground.

* The eighteenth trapped miner has arrived at the surface. He is Esteban Rojas, 44.

* The seventeenth miner to be rescued is 56-year-old Omar Reygadas, who has worked at the mine for some years as a bulldozer driver. Reygadas, a great-grandfather, requested two things while underground - a TV and a steak.

* The sixteenth miner to be rescued is 27-year-old Daniel Herrera, a truck driver. During the ten weeks the miners spent underground, Harrerra took on the role of paramedic's assistant.

* The fifteenth miner brought to the surface is 48-year-old Victor Segovia. Segovia, an electrician, wrote to his family of dreaming that he and the other miners were in an oven, and the "eternal darkness" of the mine.

* The fourteenth miner to be rescued is 33-year-old Victor Zamora, a mechanic who happened to be working the mine when the collapse happened. Zamora joked while in the mine that one of the best things about being trapped below ground was that you don't have to wash as much. His home was reportedly destroyed by an earthquake earlier this year.

* The thirteenth miner to be rescued is 27-year-old Carlos Barrios, known as "the runner" to his colleagues. Barrios reportedly complained about the way the men were treated by the psychologist brought in to keep them in a good mental state. He hugs his father, Antenor, while sobbing with happiness before getting onto a waiting stretcher.

* The twelfth miner to reach the surface is 34-year-old Edison Pena, who is reportedly a fan of Elvis Presley. He initially felt sick after the collapse but held on for his girlfriend, Angelica Alvarez, who hugged him as he emerged.

* The eleventh miner to be winched to safety is 56-year-old Jorge Galleguillos. Bolivia's President Evo Morales returned to the mine and was there when Galleguillos emerged, along with Chile's President Sebastian Pinera.

* The tenth miner to be rescued is 31-year-old mechanic Alex Vega. He was told by his wife, Jessica Salgado, to forget about their money problems - a common issue for those working the mines.

* The ninth and oldest miner, 63-year-old Mario Gomez, has been brought safely to the surface. Extra precautions were taken with Gomez, including a full-face oxygen mask, as he had suffered from respiratory problems. He held aloft a Chilean flag as he emerged from the rescue capsule.

* The eighth miner to be rescued was 34-year-old Claudio Yanez. Yanez accepted a marriage proposal from his long-term partner, Cristina Nunez, while stuck in the mine and was greeted by her and his two daughters.

* The seventh miner, 46-year-old Jose Ojeda, has been rescued from the mine. Ojeda was the one who wrote the first note to rescuers, which read "We are all well". He has worked for more than three decades as a miner.

* The sixth miner, 30-year-old Osman Araya, has been winched to freedom. He had previously sent a message to his family saying "I'll never leave you. I'll fight to the end to be with you."

* The fifth miner, nineteen-year-old Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest of the mining gang and thought to be one of most psychologically vulnerable, reached the surface safe. Sanchez had only been working as a miner for five months before the collapse.

* The fourth miner, Bolivian Carlos Mamani reached the surface and greeted his family for the first time in 29 days. He had previously vowed to never work in a mine again, and was reportedly offered a plot of land by Bolivia's President Evo Morales.

* The third miner, fifty-two-year-old Juan Illanes - a former soldier - reportedly joked that his "trip" was "like a cruise" after reaching the surface.

* The second miner, Mario Sepulveda, reaches the surface in high spirits and embraces his wife, Elvira. He works the crowd, shouting and cheering before being taken away on a stretcher, with a huge grin on his face.

* The first miner to be rescued, 31-year-old father-of-two Florencio Avalos, is brought to the surface amid cheers. He is embraced by President Pinera as the surrounding crowd chanted "Chile! Chile!"

- with AP

- Reuters

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