Chile mine rescue completed; last miner is hoisted to safety
Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 8:58 PM
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - A saga that had gripped the world for more than two months ended happily Wednesday night as the last of 33 miners who had been trapped under 2,000 feet of rock in northern Chile was pulled to the surface.
Luis Urzua, the 54-year-old who was shift foreman when the gold and copper mine collapsed, was the last to leave the mine in a special rescue capsule winched to the surface. When he stepped out of the capsule, rescuers exulted over the end of what had once seemed a near-improbable task. (One rescuer remained in the mine, however, awaiting his own trip to the surface.)
The rescue effort had triggered a great swell of national pride in Chile, and each miner was greeted upon his return with patriotic cheers of "Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le!" and an embrace from President Sebastian Pinera, who has been a near-constant presence at the mine during the ordeal.
"Bienvenido a la vida," Pinera told Victor Segovia, the 15th miner to emerge. In English, the phrase means, "Welcome to life."
The 33 men are believed to have survived longer underground than anyone else in the history of mining accidents. Each emerged seemingly in good health, wearing dark sunglasses to protect his eyes after 69 days in their dark, humid cavern under the Atacama Desert.
"We always knew that we would be rescued," Mario Sepulveda, the second miner pulled from the depths, said shortly after he emerged. "We never lost faith."
After he stepped out of the capsule, the ebullient Sepulveda led those gathered at the surface in a rousing cheer, earning him the nickname "Super Mario" in Chilean newspapers.
Like those before him, the 20th miner rescued, Dario Segovia, 48, emerged freshly shaved and hugged his wife before lying down on a gurney and being wheeled into a field hospital.
In Washington, President Obama said: "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. And I want to express the hopes of the American people that the miners who are still trapped underground will be returned home safely as soon as possible."
He also commended those from the United States and other nations who assisted in the rescue effort, including a NASA team that helped design the escape capsule, U.S. companies that manufactured parts of the rescue drill and the American engineer who flew in from Afghanistan to operate the drill.
"Last night, the whole world watched" as the first rescued miner surfaced, Obama told reporters. "It was a thrilling moment, and we're hopeful that those celebrations duplicate themselves throughout the rest of today," he said.