San Jose Mine: 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 a half-mile underground.
Seven men were pulled out in the first five hours of the apparently problem-free operation in the Chile`s Atacama desert — a drama that saw the world captivated by the miners` endurance and unity as officials meticulously prepared their rescue.
First out was Florencio Avalos, who wore 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 nearly 2,300 feet (700 meters) below to laughing rescuers.
Then he jumped up and down as if to prove his strength before the medical team took him to a triage unit.
"I think I had extraordinary luck. ... I was with God and with the devil — and God took me," Sepulveda said later in a special interview room set up by the government.
He praised the rescue operation, saying: "It`s incredible that they saved us from 700 meters below."