First Chile miner reaches the surface
Florencio Avalos is first of 33 miners to make it out after 69 days
The first Chilean miner, one of 33 trapped in the San Jose mine for over two months, caught his first breath of fresh air as emergency workers started the final stages of their rescue mission.
Florencio Avalos, 31, was winched up a 624m (2,047ft) shaft in a custom-built capsule, wearing an oxygen mask and a belt monitoring his vital signs.
He was met by his wife and young son amid tears of joy and an ovation from the crowd of other miners’ families, rescue workers, press and officials. Avalos, a driver, had been filming videos that were sent to rescuers and relatives on the surface. His brother, Renan Anselmo Avalos Silva (29) is also trapped in the mine.
The operation began at 23:18 (0218 GMT) with a technical expert being lowered down, and is expected to take 48 hours.
The miners have been split in to three groups for the rescue: Grupo Refugio, Grupo Rampa and Grupo 105, named after the shelter (Refugio), the ramp (Rampa) and Level 105 sections of the 1km tunnel where they are trapped. Avalos was one of 12 members of the Groupo 105 team.
The oldest, Mario Gomez, 63, has worked in the mines since the age of 12 and was thinking of retiring in November.
The youngest is 19-year-old Jimmy Sanchez, with only five months' experience.
Earlier, President Sebastian Pinera said he hoped what began as a possible tragedy, would end as a blessing.
"I know tonight there will be tears of happiness in all Chilean homes," he told reporters. "We made a promise to never surrender, and we kept it."
"I am sure the miners will not be the same people they were before the accident, and the Chilean people will not be the same people."
Rescuers expect every miner to be above ground by Satuday.
The order in which the miners will be rescued:
1-10: Florencio Avalos, Mario Sepulveda, Juan Illanes, Carlos Mamani, Jimmy Sanchez, Osman Araya, Jose Ojeda, Claudio Yanez, Mario Gomez, Alex Vega
11-20: Jorge Galleguillos, Edison Pena, Carlos Barrios, Victor Zamora, Victor Segovia, Daniel Herrera, Omar Reygadas, Esteban Rojas, Pablo Rojas
21-33: Dario Segovia, Yonni Barrios, Samuel Avalos, Carlos Bugueno, Jose Henriquez, Renan Avalos, Claudio Acuna, Franklin Lobos, Richard Villarroel, Juan Aguilar, Raul Bustos, Pedro Cortez, Ariel Ticona, Luis Urzua
Source: A hand-out given to the families