To hugs, cheers and tears, rescuers using a missile-like escape capsule began pulling 33 men one by one to fresh air and freedom at last early Wednesday, 69 days after they were trapped in a collapsed mine almost a half-mile underground.
Rescued first was Florencio Avalos, who wore a helmet and sunglasses to protect him from the glare of bright lights. He smiled broadly as he emerged and hugged his sobbing 7-year-old son, Bairon, and wife, then got a bearhug from Chilean President Sebastian Pinera shortly after midnight local time.
A second miner, Mario Sepulveda Espina, was pulled to the surface about an hour later — his shouts heard even before the capsule surfaced. After hugging his wife, Elvira, he jubilantly handed souvenir rocks from his underground prison to laughing rescuers.
Then he jumped up and down as if to prove his strength to everyone before the medical team took him into a triage unit.
A third miner, Juan Illanes, followed after another hour — holding to a schedule announced earlier to get them all out in about 36 hours.
When the last man surfaces, it promises to end a national crisis that began when 700,000 tons of rock collapsed Aug. 5, sealing the men in the lower reaches of the mine in the Chilean desert.
The miners captivated the world with their endurance and unity as Chile meticulously prepared their rescue.
After the first capsule came out of the manhole-sized opening, Avalos emerged as bystanders cheered, clapped and broke into a chant of "Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le!" — the country's name.
Avalos gave a thumbs-up as he was led to an ambulance and medical tests following his more than two months deep below the Chilean desert — the longest anyone has ever been trapped underground and survived.
Avalos, the 31-year-old second-in-command of the miners, was chosen to be first because he was in the best condition. He has been so shy that he volunteered to handle the camera rescuers sent down so he wouldn't have to appear on the videos that the miners sent up.
Pinera later explained they had not planned for Avalos' family to join rescuers at the opening of the shaft, but that little Bairon insisted on being there.
"I told Florencio that few times have I ever seen a son show so much love for his father," the president said.
"This won't be over until all 33 are out," he added. "Hopefully the spirit of these miners will remain forever with us. ... This country is capable of great things."
Minutes earlier, mine rescue expert Manuel Gonzalez of the state copper company Codelco grinned and made the sign of the cross as he was lowered to the trapped men — apparently without incident. He was followed by Roberto Rios, a paramedic with the Chilean navy's special forces, who helped prepare the miners for rescue.
"We made a promise to never surrender, and we kept it," Pinera said as he waited to greet the miners, whose endurance and unity captivated the world as Chile meticulously prepared their rescue.
The last miner out has been decided: Shift foreman Luis Urzua, whose leadership was credited for helping the men endure 17 days with no outside contact after the collapse. The men made 48 hours' worth of rations last before rescuers reached them with a narrow borehole to send down more food.
Janette Marin, sister-in-law of miner Dario Segovia, said the order of rescue didn't matter.
"This won't be a success unless they all get out," she said, echoing the solidarity that the miners and people across Chile have expressed.
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