SAN JOSE MINE, Chile — The longest underground nightmare in history ended safely — and faster than anyone expected.
In a flawless operation that unfolded before a hopeful, transfixed world, 33 miners who were trapped for more than two months deep beneath the Chilean earth were raised one by one Wednesday through a smooth-walled shaft of rock.
The last man out was the one who held the group together when they were feared lost, a shift foreman named Luis Urzua who enforced tight rations of their limited food and supplies before help could arrive.
"We have done what the entire world was waiting for," he said immediately after his rescue. "We had strength, we had spirit, we wanted to fight, we wanted to fight for our families, and that was the greatest thing."
Not even a full 24 hours after the rescue began, Urzua made the 2,041-foot ascent in a rescue capsule called Phoenix and emerged from a manhole-sized opening in the ground to a joyous celebration of confetti, balloons and champagne.
President Sebastian Pinera 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 hardhats held to their hearts, the pair led a joyous crowd in singing the national anthem.
The first rescue worker down was last up — Manuel Gonzalez, a mine rescue expert with Chile's state-owned Codelco copper company, talked the men through the final hours inside the mine. Then, he spent 26 minutes alone down below before he strapped himself into the capsule for the ride up. He reached the surface at 12:32 a.m. Thursday local time to hugs from his comrades and Pinera.