"Thank you for transmitting your faith and hope," said Florencio Avalos Silva, 31, the first miner to be rescued at 12:14 a.m. in Chile. Surrounded by dozens of rescuers, Silva appeared calm as he exited the capsule after being hoisted from 2,050 feet below the earth. Wearing a green waterproof suit and sunglasses, he was greeted with tears by his wife and young children before receiving a hug from the president.
"How's the dog?" Mario Sepulveda Espinace, 40, asked his wife cheerfully after emerging from the rescue capsule nearly an hour after Silva. Later, as he waited to be transported to the hospital, he spoke more seriously about his experience in the mine.
"It was like a cruise," Juan Illanes Palma, 52, told reporters when asked about his ride in the Phoenix, the narrow rescue capsule designed to carry each miner to the surface in about 15 minutes. Illanes served as a corporal for Chile during the Beagle Conflict, a border dispute with Argentina.I was with God and I was with the devil; they fought me but God won. He took me by my best hand, the hand of God, and I held on to him. I never thought for one minute that God wouldn't get me out of there. I believe that I had extraordinary luck, I believe this was a test. ... I believe that God does test people and I believe that we have the possibility to confront things in life such as what we had to confront, ... but I'm very happy that it happened to me because I believe it was the moment in which to make changes. The professionals that do all this publicity and television, the only personal thing I ask is for you to not treat us as celebrities or journalists. I want you to continue treating me like Mario Antonio Sepulveda, a worker, a miner.
"Gracias, Chile!" said Carlos Mamani Soliz, 24, the fourth miner to be rescued.
"There are actually 34 of us, because God has never left us down here," Jimmy Sanchez Lagues, 19, wrote in a note to his wife shortly before the rescue mission began. He also described how his love for his daughter helped him survive the darkest moments. "In the toughest times I thanked God I had a daughter."
"God bless everyone who has supported us through these days," said Osman Araya Araya, 30, the sixth rescued miner. "Thank you all for helping us, thank you all so much."
Upon reaching the surface, Mario Gomez Heredia, who is the oldest miner at 63, dropped to his knees in prayer: "I looked back on my life; I'm a different man now; I'm a changed man," he said a few hours later.
"Thank God we're alive. I know now why we're alive," said Edison Pena Villarroel, 34, the 12th miner to be rescued at 10:12 a.m. Villarroel was known for jogging an hour per day while in the mine and for being a huge fan of Elvis Presley, whose music he requested rescuers deliver to him underground.
As miners began assuming different roles and responsibilities, Victor Zamora Bugueno, 33, became the group's poet: "Under the earth there is a ray of light, my path, and faith is the last thing that is lost ... I have been born again," he wrote in one piece.
Trapped beneath the earth with limited resources at his disposal, Esteban Rojas Carrizo, 44, still found a way to propose to his partner of 25 years by writing on a piece of scrap paper. "When I do get out, we will buy a dress and get married," the note said.
Seconds before the capsule touched fresh air, Yonni Barrios Rojas, the 21st miner to be rescued, shouted a short but sweet update to his rescuers: "All OK!"
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