One by one, rescuers in Chile are freeing 33 miners who have been trapped more than a half-kilometer underground since early August.
So far, 16 miners have been raised to freedom in the unprecedented and complex rescue operation in northern Chile.
The men are emerging from the rescue capsule to the cheers of the rescuers, officials and family members. Some quietly knelt in prayer before being taken away on gurneys for immediate medical examinations. They were trapped underground for 69 days — more than anyone on record.
The miners are being brought to the surface in a metal rescue chamber called “Phoenix”, designed by Nasa. The men are wearing dark glasses to protect their eyes from bright light after more than two months in the dark mine. The first person rescued, 31-year-old Florencio Avalos, embraced his son and wife before being greeted by President Pinera.
Chile’s health minister, Jaime Manalich, said the workers rescued so far are in good health.
Never before have miners been resuced from such a depth. The escape shaft is about 622 meters deep, and it takes an hour or less for each rescue.
More than 1,000 journalists have convened at the site in the Chilean desert, and the event is being broadcast live by Chilean television and on stations around the world.
The miners were trapped in hot, humid conditions since an August 5 cave-in that sealed them deep in the recesses of the San Jose copper and gold mine.
U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday offered his thoughts and prayers to the miners. He said Americans pray the miners will emerge safely. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley sent a message by Twitter congratulating Chile for the successful rescue of the first miner, calling it a “remarkable display of hope and skill.”
President Pinera said the mine, which has had a history of accidents, will be closed until the safety of those working there can be guaranteed.
Companies from the around the world have helped in the rescue, like UPS which shipped the container to the desert where the mine is located. A Texas company provided the health monitors worn by the miners as they rose to the surface through the shaft. Another company donated sunglasses.
WATCH video below, of the first miner rescued, from CNN…
(With source material from VOA.com)