SAN JOSE MINE, Chile (AP) - The first of 33 men was rescued Tuesday night after 69 days trapped in a collapsed mine, pulled to fresh air and freedom at last in a missile-like escape capsule to the cheers of his family and countrymen.
Florencio Avalos, wearing a helmet and sunglasses to protect him from the glare of rescue lights, smiled broadly as he hugged rescuers, then embraced Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.
Avalos' wife, two sons and father looked on. His 7-year-old son Bairo sobbed, as did Chile's first lady, Cecilia Morel.
After he emerged from the capsule that was pulled out of a manhole-sized opening, bystanders cheered and clapped, then broke into a chant of "Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le!" - the country's name.
Avalos gave a thumbs-up as he was led to an ambulance and medical tests after his more than two months deep below the Chilean desert - the longest anyone has ever been trapped underground and survived.
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.
Minutes earlier, mine rescue expert Manuel Gonzalez of the state copper company Codelco grinned and made the sign of the cross as he was lowered into the shaft to the trapped men - apparently without incident. He was 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.
"We made a promise to never surrender, and we kept it," Pinera said 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.
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.