SAN JOSE MINE – The last of the Chilean miners, the foreman who held them together when they were feared lost, was raised from the depths of the Earth on Wednesday night – a joyous ending to a 69-day ordeal that riveted the world. No one has ever been trapped so long and survived.
Luis Urzua ascended smoothly through 2,000 feet of rock, completing a 22-hour rescue operation that unfolded with remarkable speed and flawless execution. Before a jubilant crowd of about 2,000 people, he became the 33rd miner to be rescued.
“We have done what the entire world was waiting for,” he told Chilean President Sebastian Pinera immediately after his rescue. “The 70 days that we fought so hard were not in vain. We had strength, we had spirit, we wanted to fight, we wanted to fight for our families, and that was the greatest thing.”
The president told him: “You are not the same, and the country is not the same after this. You were an inspiration. Go hug your wife and your daughter.” With Urzua by his side, he led the crowd in singing the national anthem.
The rescue exceeded expectations every step of the way. Officials first said it might be four months before they could get the men out; it turned out to be 69 days and about 8 hours.
Once the escape tunnel was finished, they estimated it would take 36 to 48 hours to get all the miners to the surface. That got faster as the operation went along, and all the men were safely above ground in 22 hours, 37 minutes.
The rescue workers who talked the men through the final hours still had to be hoisted to the surface.
In nearby Copiapo, about 3,000 people gathered in the town square, where a huge screen broadcast live footage of the rescue. The exuberant crowd waved Chilean flags of all sizes and blew on red vuvuzelas as cars drove around the plaza honking their horns, their drivers yelling, “Long live Chile!”
“The miners are our heroes,” said teary-eyed Copiapo resident Maria Guzman, 45.