After a full day of uninterrupted work, the 33 miners trapped since August 5th more than 600 meters deep at a mine in northern Chile, were rescued unharmed on Wednesday night.
With the rescue of the group leader, Luis Urzúa (54), recorded at 21:55 local time (00:55 GMT) after 70 days of isolation, authorities declared the end of the salvage operation. The six brigades had yet to return to the surface.
«I hand over my shift and I hope this never happens again. Thanks to all of Chile and to those who have cooperated. I feel proud of being a Chilean,» the miner said to President Sebastián Piñera when he stepped out of the capsule of only 54 centimeters in diameter that had hauled him up the 622 meter duct.
The surfacing of Urzúa caused an explosion of joy at Camp Hope, the village set up by relatives of the workers in the mine near San Jose, where around 2,000 media professionals from all over the world arrived.
The joy was also expressed in the streets and squares across the country, with motorists honking their horns, citizens waving flags and fire stations making their alarms sound in unison.
«We had the strength, grit and spirit to fight for ourselves and for our families,» the miner said in his brief conversation with the head authority, while the official television signal showed the six brigades who remained in the depths of the shelter displaying a canvas which read: «Chile: Mission Accomplished.»
«I receive your shift and I congratulate you for doing your duty and coming out last,» President Piñera answered Urzúa, before he shook his hand, gave him a warm hug and sang the Chilean national anthem with all those who participated.
Emerging at 00:21 local time (03:21 GMT), Manuel González, from the brigade of state-owned Codelco who spent 24 hours in the mine having been the first one to go down in the Phoenix 2 cage , said: «Officially, we declare this over. I am returning happy thanks to God and all my team-mates.» 12 minutes later, the San Lorenzo operation ended with full success.