"I never doubted. I always knew God would rescue us,"
"I am so very happy," added the miner, who was surrounded by family members holding his hands or touching him, as if to be sure he was really there. "I'm 40 years old and will live many years more now to honor those who helped" in the rescue.
He stepped from the capsule to an explosion of cheers and patriotic chanting from rescue workers and Chilean officials, his emergence broadcast by state TV to a worldwide audience witnessing a triumph of human determination over geology.
Amid whistles, raw shouts and tears, Avalos hugged his wife, Monica, his sobbing 7-year-old son, Bairon, and the president of
His appearance signaled the start of the final, still-perilous chapter in a 69-day-old drama that began
Since then, the original despair above and below ground gave way to rejoicing at the discovery, followed by anxiety as drills punched through rock to create a path for the rescue. Patience was further strained by technical delays on the final day, as crews hooked up communications gear and ran more tests on the integrity of the shaft.
But any frustration surrendered to elation when
Gonzalez's arrival was proof that the trip could be made, but the drama still has time to run.
Rescue workers drafted a pecking order for the men's ascent and said they hoped to bring them out at a rate of about one an hour, a pace that would have everyone to safety in two days.
But they also cautioned against premature celebration, noting that only the top of the shaft had been lined with metal tubing and that each trip required the capsule to negotiate bends in the crude tunnel.
Pinera had arrived at the mine Tuesday afternoon to watch the rescue efforts and greet the miners.
"We made a promise to never surrender and we kept it," the president said.
As relatives huddled around television sets or bonfires waiting for details about when their loved ones were to be hoisted up aboard the rescue capsule, they said they were allowing themselves to feel an enormous sense of relief.
Juan Alcalipe, whose son-in-law,
"My daughter won't let him," Alcalipe said.
After Avalos was ushered to a nearby makeshift clinic for a checkup, shower and change of clothes, another rescuer,
Rather than appearing feeble after his long
imprisonment, Sepulveda erupted from the rescue capsule as if he had
scored a winning goal in the World Cup. First he hugged his wife,
Elvira, then he hugged Pinera three times, then he hugged anyone within
reach before leading a crowd of onlookers in a victory chant of "Long
The lone Bolivian among the miners,
As the night wore on and all eyes remained on the spinning wheel that lowered and raised the rescue capsule, the operation appeared to be running smoothly.
Near the rescue site were four red-and-white portable structures that served as the clinic where, for the first two hours above ground, the miners received first aid if needed.
Farther up a steep incline, past enormous cranes and other equipment used in the effort, were half a dozen container-like structures where miners were reunited with their families.
While in the metal capsule, the men wear an oxygen mask, compression socks to prevent blood clots and a belt that continually measures pulse, temperature and respiration. There is two-way communication inside, and a small video camera focuses on the miner's face.
In the event of signs of panic — the biggest concern of rescuers — the extraction will be speeded up.
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