It's the ride of their lives.
After being trapped 2,000 feet below ground for nearly two and a half months, 33 Chilean miners were being brought to the surface one by one on Wednesday in a rescue capsule called the Phoenix I, named after the sacred mythical bird that rose from ashes.
The first, Florencio Ávalos, 31, ascended shortly after midnight, to be greeted by the sound of horns and cheers from an cheering audience that had kept an overnight vigil of the rescue operation. Hugging his family, his nation’s president and the workers around him before being taken away on a stretcher, Ávalos gave a thumbs-up as he left.
He was followed by Mario Sepúlveda, 39, Juan Illanes, in his early 50s, and Carlos Mamani, 24, the lone Bolivian among the group.
Each ride to the surface takes at least an hour – a slow climb, to be sure, but nothing compared to 69 days without sunlight or any certainty that engineers would be able to reach them in time.
Upon emerging, the miners board ambulances for a triage station and are then evacuated by helicopter to Copiapo, Chile, where they will be kept in the hospital for 48 hours of observation.
For weeks after the Aug. 5 mine collapse, the workers were feared dead. But on Aug. 22, they were able to send up a note attached to a drill bill dramatically proclaiming that they had survived and were waiting to be rescued.
They rationed their food supplies in the weeks before contact, and had used their mineshaft vehicles to dig for trapped water. By and large, they are said to be in adequate health, though they have all lost significant weight.
The miners are said to have survived longer than anyone in similar circumstances. "They are doing very well. They are very pleased," their doctor, Jean Romagnoli, told French Press Association. "They are in very good physical shape and in good spirits, which always helps."