COPIAPO, Chile(Reuters) - Roughly 22 hours after the first trapped Chilean miner was hoisted to the surface, the last miner was brought to safety in a methodical rescue operation that captivated the world and ended a two-month underground ordeal.
About 2-1/2 hours later, the last of the six rescuers emerged from the gold and copper mine in Chile’s northern Atacama desert early on Thursday. Manuel Gonzalez, the first of the rescuers to enter the mine, was the last to leave.
The miners had spent more than two months trapped 2,050 feet underground after a cave-in at the mine.
The final miner to emerge was Luis Urzua, 54, the shift supervisor who became the leader of the trapped miners, organizing the men into watches, rationing food and maintaining order during 17 days without contact from the surface.
* The miners were transported to the surface inside a specially designed steel capsule barely wider than a man’s shoulders, and emerged one by one as national heroes in the South American country.
* Chile and its billionaire President Sebastian Pinera have both burnished their images with the flawlessly executed rescue of 33 miners trapped deep underground for more than two months.
* His handling of the crisis helped Pinera push through a bill to raise royalties paid by mining companies in the world’s top copper producer to help fund reconstruction after a devastating February earthquake in Chile.
* Bells and horns sounded throughout Chile in celebration, while a crowd outside the mine chanted “Viva Chile” amid smiles, tears and a sea of red-white-and-blue national flags.
* The miners are facing new-found celebrity. A local singer-turned-businessman has given them $10,000 each. Apple boss Steve Jobs has sent them all a latest iPod. A Greek firm has offered an islands tour. Real Madrid and Manchester United have invited them to watch them play in Europe.
* It was quite a day for the rescued miners. One became a father during his captivity. Another returned to the surface with a book draft. A third was met by his mistress while his wife stayed home.
* Bolivian President Evo Morales was on the scene to greet the sole foreign miner -- Bolivian Carlos Mamani -- after his rescue.
* President Barack Obama hailed the operation, saying, “This rescue is a tribute not only to the determination of the rescue workers and the Chilean government but also the unity and resolve of the Chilean people who have inspired the world.”
* The miners were sent for medical checkups and found to be in “more than satisfactory” health, except for one who has pneumonia and is being treated with antibiotics. The miners are being kept in dim lighting to help their eyes adjust after spending so long deprived of natural light.
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
* The accident shone a spotlight on lax mining controls in the world’s top copper producer, but also highlighted a mature industry that has the machinery and expertise to handle one of the world’s most challenging rescues ever.
* The ordeal began with a cave-in on August 5 that trapped the miners about 2,050 feet underground in the mine near the northern Chilean city of Copiapo, 500 miles north of Santiago.
* With ingenuity and cutting-edge technology, the men survived trapped underground for more than two months fending off hunger, anxiety and illness in a record-setting feat of survival.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
* “I have been with God and I’ve been with the devil.” -- Mario Sepulveda, the second miner to be pulled from the mine.
Reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Will Dunham and Paul Simao
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