One by one, the miners trapped for 69 days in a dungeon that could have been their tomb climbed into a rescue capsule and made a smooth ascent to the surface Wednesday, greeted by the embraces of loved ones, cheered by joyous Chileans and watched by a captivated world.
The anxiety that had accompanied the careful final days of preparation broke at 12:11 a.m., when the stoutest of the men, Florencio Avalos, emerged from the missile-like chamber and smiled broadly after his half-mile journey to fresh air.
By midday, 16 men had been pulled from the mine in just under 13 hours, including the oldest and youngest among the trapped. The effort was methodical and free of any significant problems, and on track to finish before sunrise Thursday.
Amid an explosion of cheers, Avalos hugged his sobbing 7-year-old son and wife and then President Sebastian Pinera, who has been deeply involved in an effort that had become a matter of national pride.
Avalos was followed an hour later by the most ebullient of the group, Mario Sepulveda, whose shouts were heard even before the capsule peeked above the surface. He hugged his wife, handed out souvenir rocks from the mine to laughing rescuers, bounded out and thrust a fist upward like a prizefighter.