(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Chilean rescue operation that has shown how Chile values each life is an
"inspiration" to the world, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera in a phone conversation Wednesday
Netanyahu said he and the Israeli people salute the
Chileans, the heroism of the miners, and the self-sacrifice of the
rescuers. During the conversation Netanyahu invited Pinera to Israel for
the signing in the near future of a free trade agreement between the
Trapped Chilean miners record video
Chile: Miners entombed alive for months
The Prime Minister's Office quoted Pinera as
saying he would be glad to visit. "We want to learn your technological
and scientific wonders," he said.
With remarkable speed — and flawless execution — miner after miner climbed into a cramped cage deep beneath the Chilean earth, was hoisted through 2,000 feet of rock and saw precious sunlight Wednesday after the longest underground entrapment in history.
As night fell, 30 of the 33 miners, including the weakest and sickest, had been pulled to freedom, and officials appeared on track to pull up the last miner well before midnight, local time.
After 69 days underground, including two weeks during which they were feared dead, the men emerged to the cheers of exuberant Chileans and before the eyes of a transfixed globe.
"Welcome to life," President Sebastian Pinera told Victor Segvia, the 15th miner out, and on a day of superlatives, it seemed no overstatement.
They rejoined a world intensely curious about their ordeal, and certain to offer fame, jobs and previously unimaginable riches.
Beginning at midnight Tuesday, and sometimes as quickly as every 40 minutes, the pod was lowered the nearly half-mile to where 700,000 tons of rock collapsed Aug. 5 and entombed the men. Then a miner would strap himself in, make the journey upward and emerge from a manhole into the blinding sun.
The rescue was planned with extreme care. The miners were monitored by video on the way up for any sign of panic. They had oxygen masks, dark glasses to protect their eyes from unfamiliar light and sweaters for the jarring transition from subterranean swelter to chilly desert air.
The miners emerged looking healthier than many had expected and even clean-shaven, and at least one, Mario Sepulveda, the second to taste freedom, bounded out and thrust a fist upward like a prizefighter.
As it traveled down and up, down and up, the rescue capsule was not rotating as much inside the 2,041-foot escape shaft as officials expected, allowing for faster trips, and officials said the operation could be complete by sunrise Thursday, if not sooner.
The first man out was Florencio Avalos, who emerged from the missile-like chamber and hugged his sobbing 7-year-old son, his wife and the Chilean president.
The last out was slated to be shift foreman Luis Urzua, whose leadership was credited with helping the men endure the first two and a half weeks without outside contact. The men made 48 hours' worth of rations last before rescuers reached them with a narrow bore hole to send down more food.
No one in recorded history has survived as long trapped underground. For the first 17 days, no one even knew whether they were alive. In the weeks that followed, the world was captivated by their endurance and unity.
Chile exploded in joy and relief at the first, breakthrough rescue just after midnight in the coastal Atacama desert. Car horns sounded in Santiago, the Chilean capital, and school was canceled in the nearby town of Copiapo, where 24 of the miners live.
News channels from North America to Europe and the Middle East carried live coverage. Pope Benedict XVI said in Spanish that he "continues with hope to entrust to God's goodness" the fate of the men. Iran's state English-language Press TV followed events live for a time. North Korean state TV had a crew at the mine.
The men emerged in good health. But at the hospital in Copiapo, where miner after miner walked from the ambulance to a waiting wheelchair, it became clear that psychological issues would be as important to treat as physical ones.
Most of the men emerged clean-shaven. Crews had lowered packages dubbed "palomas," Spanish for carrier pigeons, with food and medicine for the weeks underground, and in the days before rescue they were sent razors and shaving cream.
Mining is Chile's lifeblood, providing 40 percent of state earnings, and
Pinera put his mining minister and the operations chief of state-owned
Codelco, the country's biggest company, in charge of the rescue.
In Washington, President Barack Obama also called the rescue "inspirational." The crews included a team from Center Rock Inc. of Berlin, Pa.,
that built and managed the piston-driven hammers that pounded open the
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 man has readjusted.