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June 30, 2022

Joy as Chile miners reach surface

President Sebastian Pinera declared the rescue a miracle.

The first 10 of 33 miners trapped underground for more than two months in northern Chile have been winched to the surface amid scenes of jubilation, BBC News reports. Florencio Avalos was first to be freed, at 0010 local time (0310 GMT). He was greeted by family and hugged by President Sebastian Pinera. Also to emerge were the only non-Chilean, Bolivian national Carlos Mamani, and the youngest and oldest miners. In an address at the mine, Pinera declared the rescue a miracle.

The operation has run smoothly so far. Health Minister Jaime Manalich said that if working conditions stayed the same, the rescue should be completed in one-and-a-half days, half a day quicker than predicted. The rescue operation began shortly after 2315 local time (0215 GMT) with a technical expert, Manuel Gonzalez, being lowered down the 624m (2,047ft) rescue shaft. Gonzalez was supposed to then return to the surface. However, a live video feed from the refuge where the miners were gathered showed Avalos preparing to be winched up immediately.

A minute after the “Phoenix” capsule reached the top of the rescue shaft, Avalos stepped out and was greeted by his family, rescuers and the president and the first lady, Cecilia Morel. Bystanders cheered and clapped, and then started chanting “Chile”.

Avalos gave a thumbs-up before being taken in an ambulance to a medical triage centre and then given time with his family. The second miner freed, Mario Sepulveda, reached the surface about an hour later. Sepulveda appeared in perfect physical and emotional condition. He ran towards a group of rescuers and led them in singing. He also brought a bag of souvenir rocks from the mine.

Shortly after, in a televised interview, Sepulveda said his faith in God had sustained him and that he had had full confidence he would be rescued.

He was followed up by Juan Illanes and Carlos Mamani, who kissed his waiting wife Veronica and shouted: “Gracias, Chile!” Bolivian President Evo Morales was expected to arrive at the mine later on Wednesday to meet Mamani.

Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest miner at 19, came next. He had only been working at the mine for five months and had been showing signs of anxiety. The sixth miner freed was Osman Araya, 30, to a hugely emotional reunion with his wife.

Seventh miner Jose Ojeda was the man whose scribbled note “All 33 of us are safe in the shelter” 17 days after the accident had informed the world the miners were still alive. The eighth, Claudio Yanez, was met by his partner of 11 years, Cristina Nunez. Then came the oldest miner, 63-year-old Mario Gomez. It was Gomez who sent up a letter shortly after the miners were found to be alive, expressing love for his family and saying that the mining company “has got to modernise”. Gomez kissed his wife, Liliana Ramirez, then kneeled to pray. Alex Vega, 31, was met by his wife Jessica Salgado, who said earlier she had eased his fears over debts by telling him she had cleared them.

In his address, President Pinera thanked the technical experts who had made the rescue possible and said this was a night of emotion. Recalling the devastating earthquake that struck Chile in February, he said the miners had shown that “when Chile is united, we are capable of doing great things”. “This country shows its true soul, shows what it is capable of, when we face adversity.” But the president added: “This won’t be over until all 33 are out.”

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