Rescuers Pull All 33 Miners to Safety in Chile
Two months, nine days and eight hours after their excruciating ordeal began, the last of the 33 miners trapped in an apartment-sized hole a half mile under Chile was delivered safely to the earth’s surface, capping one of the most dramatic survival stories in mining history. With the entire nation rapt and much of the world riveted, the last miner, Luis Urzua, rose smoothly out of the small hole in the ground, prompting an eruption of applause and cheers that seemed just as heartfelt as the outpouring that followed the emergence of the first miner nearly a day earlier.
As the canister carrying the last miner — the crew’s foreman — neared the surface, a crowd of workers, officials and loved ones chanted, clapped and sang a song of celebration in unison. Then, freed from the hole, Mr. Urzua stepped into the arms of jubilant rescuers who quickly wrapped him in the flag of Chile as a siren blared.
“Thanks to everybody, thanks to the rescuers, thanks to all of Chile and everyone involved in this operation,” said Mr. Urzua, 54. President Sebastián Piñera, gripping Mr. Urzua’s hands, called him a “great captain” and said the miners were an example of “companionship, courage and loyalty.”
Led by President Piñera, who urged everyone to “sing with our helmets on our hearts,” the crowd removed their helmets and sang the national song of Chile, triumphantly, as if a tiresome war had just ended.
The final rescue capped a dramatic, months-long ordeal. For more than two weeks after the collapse, rescuers had no contact with the miners and could not be sure they were even alive. But by late evening here, the precarious mission to hoist the miners to safety had moved along so efficiently that it was clear it would end far ahead of schedule.
For 22 hours, the miners emerged at regular intervals in a pageant that has moved a worldwide audience — watching on television, on computers, even on mobile phones — to tears and laughter.
The second miner to reach the surface, Mario Sepúlveda, left the rescue capsule in a kind of victory dance, hugging family members and officials. He embraced President Piñera three times and presented people with gifts: rocks from the mine. He punched fists with the crowd and led a cheer: “Chi, Chi, Chi, le, le, le,” they shouted. “Miners of Chile!” The refrain echoed as subsequent miners reached the surface.
“I’ve been near God, but I’ve also been near the devil,” Mr. Sepúlveda said through a translator. “God won.”
The 12th miner — Edison Peña, 34, known for running miles in the mine tunnels every day — stepped from the escape capsule to rapturous cheers and the embrace of his girlfriend, and then another from Mr. Piñera.
“Thank God we’re alive,” Mr. Peña said. “I know now why we’re alive.”
Laurence Golborne, the mining minister, praised the rescue operation at an afternoon briefing on Wednesday, saying that officials were able to cut the time down between miners rescued from an hour to 45 minutes.
After the miners were pulled out, there were six rescue workers still left down in the mine, and they were to be pulled out next, Mr. Golborne said.
Mr. Golborne said the most difficult rescue was that of Mario Gómez, 63, the oldest miner in the group, who had struggled with a lung condition. “We took additional precautions in this case, but he’s fine,” Mr. Golborne said. Mr. Gomez was the ninth man rescued. “Maybe we overdid it, but it’s better to do more than less.”
Jaime Mañalich, the health minister, said one patient was suffering from acute pneumonia and two others had dental infections requiring surgery, but that 17 of the first 20 miners rescued were in conditions that were “more than satisfactory.” To respect the privacy of the miners, he said he would not reveal the identity of the sick.