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Last of Chile's miners rescued
Country celebrates as all 33 men emerge after more than two months of being trapped in a collapsed mine.
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2010 07:37 GMT

The last of Chile's 33 trapped miners has been pulled to safety in a rescue operation that ended a more than two-month ordeal at a collapsed copper mine deep in the Atacama desert.

Rescue teams raised the last miner, 54-year-old Luis Urzua, to the surface on Thursday morning, just 22 hours after launching the complex mission using a narrow, missile-like capsule to lift each man through the mine shaft one by one.

"We have done what the entire world was waiting for," Urzua, who was credited with holding the group together during their bleakest times, said after his rescue.

"We had strength, we had spirit, we wanted to fight, we wanted to fight for our families, and that was the greatest thing."

Greeted by family members and Sebastian Pinera, the Chilean president, upon emerging from the capsule, the 32 Chileans and one Bolivian miner were later seen by waiting doctors and flown to a triage centre for at least two days of medical evaluations.

Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, later visited Carlos Mamani, his rescued compatriot, at the triage centre.

"They were experiencing a kind of rebirth," Pinera said in a televised address to the nation from the San Jose mine after all the miners were freed.

The rescue operation, he said, was "inspiring ... for the whole world".

Captivated audience

From the mine to the Chilean capital, Santiago, and across the world, the unprecedented successful rescue operation prompted intense international media attention as well as relief and joy from a watchful audience.

The crowd in an area nicknamed Camp Hope, down the hill from the rescue shaft, set off confetti, released balloons and sprayed champagne as the capsules surfaced, while thousands of people cheered the rescue effort in the capital.

Followed minute by minute by international media and Chilean citizens, more than 800 journalists had gathered at the site to record the scene.

In depth
  Live blog: Latest events
  Your views: Mine rescue
  Q&A: Chile mine rescue
  In pictures: Rescue drama

However, the only media allowed to record the men coming out of the shaft were a government photographer and Chile's state TV channel, whose live broadcast was delayed by 30 seconds or more to prevent the release of anything unexpected.

But the ordeal finally wrapped up at around 12:35am local time (3:35 GMT) on Thursday, when the last of six highly trained rescue specialists involved in the extraction was lifted to safety.

Initially believed to have perished following the August 5 mine collapse, the miners found refuge in an emergency shelter and survived by strictly rationing their food and water.

Officials decided the order in which they would be pulled up based on their health and capacities.

Florencio Avalos, a 31-year-old driver, was the first miner to be pulled up - chosen because he was considered among the most physically and mentally fit of the group.

He smiled broadly as he emerged and hugged his weeping seven-year-old son and wife. He then embraced president Pinera, who was overseeing the rescue operation.

Mario Sepulveda, a 39-year-old electrical specialist, was the second to reach the surface. After hugging his wife, he jubilantly handed souvenir rocks to laughing rescuers.

Final ascents

The miners were pulled up through a 600m-deep shaft in a rescue capsule wide as the shoulders of an average built miner, designed specifically for the operation. They communicated with rescue teams using an intercom in the capsule.

Though the journey up the shaft was originally estimated to take half an hour, it took only 16 minutes for miners to be pulled up the shaft, with the final ascents lasting only around nine.

Each of the trapped miners has been promised six months of psychological support by the Chilean government.

Rescuers reinforced part of the 600 metre long escape shaft with steel piping

Al Jazeera's Monica Villamizar, reporting from the rescue scene, said: "Authorities have told us that after all the necessary medical tests have been made, and the check-ups complete, they are free to go with their families and they are free to talk with whoever they want."

The miners are reported to have moved to stop any individual from profiting at the expense of the group, drawing up a legal contract to share any profits from the story of their experience.

Regardless, Eugen Gaal, from the UK Society of Occupational Medicine, said the ordeal will be a "life-changing experience" for the miners.

"Some of them will actually use it to change their lives and others will crumble," he told Al Jazeera.

"There's a range of emotions I would expect them to go through. Feelings of panic, nightmares, anxiety, even physical symptoms are well known after traumatic events.

"Some individuals will be more prone to this than others and it's the long-term support, the psychological support that has been assured to these miners, that will help them to possibly overcome these problems if they do occur."

Medics say some of the men are psychologically fragile and may struggle with stress for a long time after their rescue.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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