Chilean officials say an operation to rescue 33 trapped miners is moving smoothly, as so far, at least 27 miners have been raised from more than a half-kilometer underground, and reunited with overjoyed loved ones waiting at the surface. The unprecedented and complex rescue operation is being broadcast live around the world.
Watch streaming video of Chilean Miners Rescue
The celebrations continued as rescue crews pulled each miner to the surface aboard a rescue hatch painted in the red, white and blue colors of the Chilean national flag. The first man, Florencio Ávalos emerged shortly after midnight, ending an ordeal that began with a cave-in at the gold and copper mine in northern Chile on August 5.
The second man, Mario Sepulveda, embraced his family and rescue workers before running over to another group of mine workers and leading them in an exuberant cheer. Hours later, rescuers pulled up the oldest miner, Mario Gomez, who kneeled to pray near his wife. Health officials say the 63-year-old was receiving treatment for a lung disease common to miners.
MINER RESCUE FACTS
How they'll be removed
- Five mining experts lowered down into mine to assist with rescue
- 10-15 minutes for capsule to reach surface
- 25-30 minutes for empty capsule to descend
- Each miner wears helmet with communicator, oxygen mask, dark glasses and other equipment
- The rescue capsule is about 4.5 meters-long and about 55 cm in diameter; it contains an oxygen supply and guide wheels on top and bottom sections
The entire rescue operation was expected to take up to 48 hours, to account for the time it takes the rescue device to descend 622 meters into the mine and return to the surface.
But Health Minister Jaime Mañalich said the operation could be completed sooner than expected.
Mañalich said the operation was advancing very smoothly, and the rescue hatch was performing well. He said the device, known as Fenix (Phoenix), traveled more quickly than expected up and down inside the mine.
Chile's Navy built the Fenix, which is half a meter wide and includes an oxygen supply and a hands-free telephone system to communicate with the surface.
Officials have sent down five rescuers aboard the Fenix to assist the 33 men as they prepare to ascend on the device. A camera inserted into the hot and humid mine showed the miners dressing in sweaters to prepare for cold temperatures on the surface.
Health Minister Mañalich said so far the rescued miners show no signs of health problems, even after spending more than two months underground.
Slideshow of Chilean Embassy Event in Washington DC to watch miner rescue effort:
But he said they were preparing to pull up a group of 10 miners who are weak or ill as a result of the ordeal.
Mañalich said rescuers were beginning to extract the miners in more delicate health. But he said two Navy medics are in the mine now to evaluate them and help them prepare psychologically to avoid any problems during the rescue.
Timeline of the Chile Miners Ordeal
Some of the men appear to be suffering from lung and skin infections, and at least one has diabetes.
The trapped miners range in age from 19 to 63, and many come from families with a history of mining, one of Chile's key industries. All of the miners are Chilean nationals, except for Carlos Mamani, a Bolivian who had worked at the San Jose mine for five days before the accident occurred.
Bolivian President Evo Morales visited to the mine and greeted Mamani as he rested in a hospital bed after his rescue.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Morales congratulated Chile's President Sebastián Piñera for leading the rescue operation.
Mr. Morales said Bolivia will never forget the effort led by President Piñera, and he thanked the Chilean people for rescuing all of the miners.
President Piñera arrived at the mine Tuesday to monitor the start of the rescue operation, and he said he would remain until all the miners were rescued.
The president has vowed a full investigation into the San Jose mine and the likely causes for the cave-in, which trapped the miners. He says officials will shut down the mine after the rescue, to inspect security measures.
Mr. Piñera said the site will remain closed until mine managers can guarantee the safety and well-being of miners, and in the meantime officials will try to find alternate work for the employees.
The 33 miners have survived underground longer than any other people trapped in a mining accident in the world. After the cave-in, the miners were cut off from the surface for 17 days until a drilling crew managed to locate them.
Related video report by Elizabeth Lee: