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Euphoria in Chile as last miner reaches the surface

Luis Urzua, the last miner to be rescued, cheers with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera at the mouth of the San Jose mine on Oct. 13.


Seventy days after he was stranded deep inside a Chilean mine, the last of a group of 33 trapped men rose to the surface in a final jubilant moment to cap this remarkable day.

Luiz Urzua, the mine foreman who refused to leave before all of his men had been reunited with their families, was the last to escape.

Horns blared, alarms sounded, dozens of balloons floated into the air and families soaked each other with champagne as Mr. Urzua broke through to the surface.

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"A 70-day shift is a very long shift," said Mr. Urzua, standing before Chilean President Sebastien Pinera to symbolically hand over his leadership. "The first days were very difficult."

Mr. Pinera told the miner: "You acted like a good boss. I receive your shift."

Before the President led gathered rescuers - and indeed, this entire country - in singing the national anthem, Mr. Urzua thanked Mr. Pinera.

"Thank you for everything. I feel proud to be a Chilean."

Altogether, the rescue operation took just under 22 hours, marking the conclusion of a spellbinding saga that gripped the world.

The miner shed new light on the experience of being trapped, saying it took two to three hours before the dust settled from the mine collapse Aug. 5. The men were then finally able to examine the mass of rock blocking their exit.

"When I saw the stone, I thought, 'this is not something small,'" Mr. Urzua said. "Thank God there was no one injured.

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The miners initially believed only three or four men would get out alive, he said. They all wanted to hug the drillbit when it finally reached them 17 days later - and had prepared a series of notes to send to the surface, including one that said they were hungry.

In the end, they settled on a now-famous note, scrawled in red ink, that said all 33 men were safe in a refuge. Mr. Pinera showed the note to Mr. Urzua Wednesday night.

"You are not the same and the country is not the same," the President said.

Moments later, several of the few family members still remaining at the mine site walked up a hill that has been emblazoned with 33 flags. They stood before a brilliant wall of camera lights, the mine's rescue shaft quiet in the distance, and joined their voices to chant once again: "Long live the miners of Chile!"

Then, as a helicopter chattered overhead, en route to ferry the rescued miners to hospital, a man called out the name of each of "Los 33" into the night.

The gathered crowd responded to each name with a cry of " presente!" in a spirited roll call for the men no longer locked beneath this dry, rocky landscape.

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By the time Mr. Urzua had broken the surface, many families and media workers had left to Copiapo, a nearby town where most of the 33 evacuated miners are now awaiting release from hospital. Tents have been disassembled or stand largely empty, as a calm sense of victory descended upon a site that has witnessed an extraordinary outpouring of emotion in the past 24 hours.

Yet a faithful few remained, eager to be here until the end of a triumphant day that saw miners safely brought to the surface by the dozen, each of them smiling, each of them embraced by the indefatigable Chilean president, who has stayed here until the end.

"It's not over until the last rescue worker comes up. That's when it will be finished for me," said Cristian Lobos, whose uncle Franklin was the 27th man up.

Six rescue workers descended the mine to help the miners reach the surface. They had all reached the surface by shortly after midnight.

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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