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All miners, rescuers reach surface

Oct. 13, 2010 at 11:33 PM   |   Comments

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COPIAPO, Chile, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- All rescuers and miners have been hoisted to the surface at a Chilean mine where 33 miners had been trapped for 69 days more than 2,000 feet underground.

Rescuer Manuel Gonzalez -- an expert in mine emergencies and vertical ascents who was the first rescuer to descend into the mine when the recovery of miners began Tuesday -- took a bow before climbing into Phoenix 2, a red, white and blue capsule that was used to lift miners one at a time out of the mine cavity to a waiting crowd of rescuers, family members and other well wishers including Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

Luis Urzua was the last miner to be pulled from the mine -- 22 hours after the first miner was hoisted to the surface.

Earlier, Samuel Avalos, 43, a mine gas monitor and the 22nd rescued, was welcomed by his wife and the Chilean president.

"Welcome back to the surface, to life," said Pinera.

Johnny Barrios, 50, who served as a paramedic for the trapped miners, was the 21st rescued.

Dario Segovia, 48, the 20th freed, rejoiced when he reached the surface. The operation is going faster than scheduled and could wrap up late Wednesday night, officials indicated.

Pablo Rojas, a message handler, was the 19th miner brought up. Esteban Rojas, his cousin, who tested air quality in the mine, was the 18th extracted.

When the men were found alive 17 days after the Aug. 5 mine collapse, Estaban Rojas, 44, promised his wife of 25 years a Catholic church wedding when he was freed. He dropped to his knees, made the sign of the cross and prayed with her on the surface.

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama praised the contributions of NASA and the U.S. drillers who bored the Plan B hole used for the dramatic rescues,

"It is a thrilling moment," Obama said at the White House.

Omar Reygades, a 20-year veteran miner, was 17th to emerge from the San Jose mine. Reygades, 56, a father of 6 with 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, smiled and chatted with rescuers as he stepped from the rescue capsule. He dropped to his knees to pray holding a small Bible.

Earlier, Daniel Hurrea, 27, the 16th miner rescued, hugged and kissed his weeping mother as rescue workers cheered.

Pinera and Bolivian President Evo Morales praised both the miners and rescuers before the 15th man was hoisted to safety in Phoenix 2, CNN said.

Victor Segovia, 48, gave Pinera a thumbs up and a bear hug as he stepped from the capsule, the 15th of 33 trapped miners. Segovia kept a journal of the ordeal.

Victor Zamora, 33, the 14th miner rescued, hugged and kissed his six-months-pregnant wife.

Carlos Barrios, 27, the 13th miner freed, had only begun mining eight months before the mine collapse.

Pinera said the rescues were a victory over fear and death.

"I am more convinced than ever that the greatest wealth of our country is not copper, but our miners," he said. Morales said Bolivia would not forget the rescue of Carlos Mamani, the only trapped Bolivian miner. "This incident is uniting us more and more every day," Morales said.

Cheers greeted Edison Pena, the 12th trapped miner rescued. Pena, 34, who jogged more than 2 miles a day in dark tunnels, kept other miners' spirits up by leading exercises and singing Elvis Presley songs, CNN said Wednesday.

Mario Heredia Gomez, at 62 the oldest miner of the group, was the ninth extracted. He donned his sunglasses to shield his eyes, then waved a Chilean flag soon after he emerged from the specially designed rescue capsule about 8 1/2 hours after the rescue operation began.

The miners are being brought to the surface from more than 2,000 feet below, one by one, in a rescue operation televised around the world. After undergoing quick medical checkups at a field hospital, they were airlifted to a hospital in Copiapo, Chile, 15 minutes away by air.

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