Image by DigitalGlobe-Imagery via FlickrBREAKING NEWS: First of 33 trapped Chilean miners being rescued right this very minute...
Reuters: NEW HOPE: A screengrab shows rescue worker Manuel Gonzalez being welcomed by trapped miners as his rescue capsule reaches down to hoist trapped miners out at San Jose mine in Copiapo.
CELEBRATE: Residents cheer when the first rescuer reached the underground refuge of the miners trapped in the San Jose mine.
TRIBUTE: Mounted policemen keep journalists off the hills surrounding the area where the operation to rescue the 33 miners trapped underground in the San Jose mine is being prepared. The banner shows the names of the miners.
PRACTICE RUN: Members of the rescue team perform tests with the capsule before using it to lift the 33 trapped miners to safety.
CAMPING OUT: A general view of the area at the San Jose mine with journalists vehicles in the foreground and the rescue area in the distance.
LONG WAIT: A relative of a trapped miner sits above the rescue operation in Copiapo.
RESCUE: A general view of the area at the San Jose mine in Copiapo.
HORSING AROUND: Chilean policemen take the children of trapped miners for a stroll on horseback a few hours before the rescue operation is to begin.
PREENING: Daniela Torres, Lissette Gallardo and Leslie Torres, relatives of trapped miner Mario Gomez, prepare to receive the miners when they are hoisted out of their underground refuge.
ANTICIPATION: Lilianett Ramirez, wife of trapped miner Mario Gomez, brushes her hair as she prepares for the start of the rescue operation at the San Jose mine.
BREAKING NEWS: Local and foreign journalists work under shades as the hour to begin the rescue of the trapped miners approaches at the San Jose mine.
BANDING TOGETHER: The relatives of the 33 miners have a meal a few hours before the start of the rescue operation in Copiapo.
WAITING: The family of miner Mario Gomez, one of the 33 miners trapped underground in the San Jose mine, preen themselves a few hours before the start of the rescue operation in Copiapo.
DIGGING DEEP: Austrian mine workers install the final platform where the winch that will hoist the trapped miners is being installed, hours before the rescue operation begins at San Jose mine in Copiapo.
HOPE FLIES: A flag with the portraits of the 33 miners trapped inside the San Jose mine stands as the rescue operation continues in the distance.
WAITING: Relatives of the one of the 33 miners trapped deep underground in a copper and gold mine hold up a flag with the miners' portraits printed on it, two months after the accident at San Jose mine near Copiapo city.
INCOMING: One of the 33 trapped miners operates a machine used to cart away rock dropped into the tunnel by one of the rigs drilling from the surface to rescue them.
HIGH-HO: Miners Luis Urzua and Mario Sepulveda talk while working to cart away rock dropped into the tunnel by one of the rigs drilling from the surface to rescue them and 31 other miners, who are trapped in the San Jose mine in Copiapo.
CHEERS: A frame grab shows trapped miners holding food during celebrations of the bicentenary of Chile's independence in their refuge deep underground inside a copper and gold mine near Copiapo.
CALLING ON: A frame grab shows trapped miners communicating with the surface in Chile.
PEACE: A frame grab shows a group of trapped miners underground inside a copper and gold mine in Chile.
MAN CAVE: A frame grab shows miners trapped deep underground inside a copper and gold mine near Copiapo, Chile.
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Avalos climbed out of the rescue capsule and was immediately embraced by rescue workers and others, as bystanders cheered and clapped.
A rescuer in a missile-like escape capsule was lowered down a nearly half-mile tunnel in the Chilean desert Tuesday night to bring the miners to fresh air and freedom after the longest anyone has ever been trapped underground and survived.
Mine rescue expert Manuel Gonzalez grinned and made the sign of the cross as he was lowered into the shaft. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera wished him good luck and urged him to bring the miners up in good shape.
Gonzalez made it to the bottom of the shaft apparently without incident and entered the chamber where the miners waited for their first human contact in more than two months.
A rescue expert with the state copper company Codelco, Gonzalez will be followed by Roberto Ros, a paramedic with the Chilean navy's special forces. Together they will prepare the miners for their rescue - expected to take as many as 36 hours for all to surface.
Rescue workers, the president and his ministers then sang the national anthem and chanted "Chi, Chi, Chi, Le, Le, Le" - the country's name - while horns honked and people cheered in the tent camp below.
In the family camp outside the mine, relatives of Florencio Avalos, the miner chosen to come up first, cheered, sang and prayed.
"We made a promise to never surrender, and we kept it," Pinera said earlier as he waited to greet the miners, whose endurance and unity captivated the world as Chile meticulously prepared their rescue.
Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said he hoped the first of the miners would still emerge before midnight, a slow process because of the need for methodical testing with a rescue worker inside once all the cables are attached and tested.
Avalos, the 31-year-old second-in-command of the miners, has been so shy that he volunteered to handle the camera rescuers sent down so he wouldn't have to appear on the videos that the miners sent up.
The last miner out is also decided: Shift foreman Luis Urzua, whose leadership was credited for helping the men endure 17 days with no outside contact after the collapse. The men made 48 hours' worth of rations last before rescuers reached them with a narrow borehole to send down more food.
Janette Marin, sister-in-law of miner Dario Segovia, said the order of rescue didn't matter. "What matters is that he is getting out, that they are all getting out.
"This won't be a success unless they all get out," she added, echoing the solidarity that the miners and people across Chile have expressed.
The paramedics can change the order of rescue based on a brief medical check once they're in the mine. First out will be those best able to handle any difficulties and tell their comrades what to expect. Then, the weakest and the ill - in this case, about 10 suffer from hypertension, diabetes, dental and respiratory infections and skin lesions from the mine's oppressive humidity. The last should be people who are both physically fit and strong of character.
Ad Feedback Chile has taken extensive precautions to ensure the miners' privacy, using a screen to block the top of the shaft from the more than 1000 journalists at the scene.
The miners will be ushered through an inflatable tunnel, like those used in sports stadiums, to an ambulance for a trip of several hundred metres to a triage station for a medical check. They will gather with a few relatives in an area also closed to the media, before being taken by helicopter to a hospital.
Each ride up the shaft is expected to take about 20 minutes, and authorities expect they can haul up one miner per hour. When the last man surfaces, it promises to end a national crisis that began when 700,000 tons of rock collapsed August 5, sealing the miners into the lower reaches of the mine.
The only media allowed to record them coming out of the shaft will be a government photographer and Chile's state TV channel, whose live broadcast will be delayed by 30 seconds or more to prevent the release of anything unexpected. Photographers and camera operators are on a platform more than 300 feet (90 meters) away.
The worst technical problem that could happen, rescue coordinator Andre Sougarett told The Associated Press, is that "a rock could fall," potentially jamming the capsule partly up the shaft.
Panic attacks are the rescuers' biggest concern. The miners will not be sedated - they need to be alert in case something goes wrong. If a miner must get out more quickly, rescuers will accelerate the capsule to a maximum 3 meters per second, Health Minister Jaime Manalich said.
The rescue attempt is risky simply because no one else has ever tried to extract miners from such depths, said Davitt McAteer, who directed the US Mine Safety and Health Administration in the Clinton administration. A miner could get claustrophobic and do something to damage the capsule. Or a falling rock could wedge it in the shaft. Or the cable could get hung up. Or the rig that pulls the cable could overheat.
"You can be good and you can be lucky. And they've been good and lucky," McAteer told the AP. "Knock on wood that this luck holds out for the next 33 hours."
Golborne, whose management of the crisis has made him a media star in Chile, said authorities had already thought of everything.
"There is no need to try to start guessing what could go wrong. We have done that job," Golborne said. "We have hundreds of different contingencies."
As for the miners, Manalich said, "It remains a paradox - they're actually much more relaxed than we are."
Rescuers finished reinforcing the top of the 622-metre escape shaft Monday, and the four-metre capsule descended flawlessly in tests. The capsule - the biggest of three built by Chilean navy engineers - was named Phoenix I for the mythical bird that rises from ashes. It is painted in the white, blue and red of the Chilean flag.
The miners were to be closely monitored from the moment they're strapped in the capsule. They were given a high-calorie liquid diet donated by NASA, designed to keep them from vomiting as the rescue capsule rotates 10 to 12 times through curves in the 28-inch-diameter escape hole.
A small video camera is in the escape capsule, trained on each miner's face for panic attacks. The miners will wear oxygen masks and have two-way voice communication.
Their pulse, skin temperature and respiration rate will be constantly measured through a biomonitor around their abdomens. To prevent blood clotting from the quick ascent, they took aspirin and will wear compression socks.
The miners will also wear sweaters because they'll experience a shift in climate from about 90 degrees underground to near freezing on the surface after nightfall. Those coming out during daylight hours will wear sunglasses.
Engineers inserted steel piping at the top of the shaft, which is angled 11 degrees off vertical before plunging like a waterfall. Drillers had to curve the shaft to pass through "virgin" rock, narrowly avoiding collapsed areas and underground open spaces in the overexploited mine, which had operated since 1885.
Seconds before each miner surfaces, a siren will sound and a light will flash for a minute to alert doctors to an arriving miner.
After initial medical checks and visits with family members selected by the miners, the men will be flown to the hospital in Copiapo, a 10-minute ride away. Two floors have been prepared where the miners will receive physical and psychological exams and be kept under observation in a ward as dark as a movie theatre.
Chilean air force Lt Colonel Aldo Carbone said helicopter pilots have night-vision goggles but won't fly unless it is clear of the thick Pacific Ocean fog that rolls in at night.
Families were urged to wait and prepare to greet the miners at home after a 48-hour hospital stay. Manalich said no cameras or interviews will be allowed until the miners are released, unless the miners expressly desire it.
Neighbours looked forward to barbecues and parties to replace the vigils held since their friends were trapped.
Urzua's neighbours told the AP that he probably insisted on being the last one up.
"He's a very good guy - he keeps everybody's spirits up and is so responsible - he's going to see this through to the end," said neighbour Angelica Vicencio, who has led a nightly vigil outside the Urzua home in Copiapo.
US President Barack Obama praised rescuers, who include many Americans. "While that rescue is far from over and difficult work remains, we pray that by God's grace, the miners will be able to emerge safely and return to their families soon," he said.
Chile has promised that its care of the miners won't end for six months at least - not until they can be sure that each miner has readjusted.
Psychiatrists and other experts in surviving extreme situations predict their lives will be anything but normal.
Since Aug. 22, when a narrow bore hole broke through to their refuge and the miners stunned the world with a note, scrawled in red pen, disclosing their survival, their families have been exposed in ways they never imagined. Miners had to describe their physical and mental health in minute detail with teams of doctors and psychologists. In some cases, when both wives and lovers claimed the same man, everyone involved had to face the consequences.
Acknowledgements: Reuters for story and images.