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    Celebrations as Chilean miners begin to surface


    by ODN

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    To hugs, cheers and tears, rescuers using a missile-like escape capsule have begun pulling 33 men one by one to fresh air and freedom, 69 days after they were trapped in a collapsed mine half a mile underground.

    Five men were pulled out in the first five hours of the apparently problem-free operation in the Chile's Atacama desert, a drama that saw the world captivated by the miners' endurance and unity as officials meticulously prepared their rescue.

    Rescued first was Florencio Avalos, who wore sunglasses to protect him from the glare of bright lights.

    He smiled broadly as he emerged and hugged his sobbing seven-year-old son, Bairon, and wife, then got a bear hug from Chilean President Sebastian Pinera shortly after midnight local time.

    A second miner, Mario Sepulveda Espina, was pulled to the surface about an hour later, his shouts heard even before the capsule surfaced.

    After hugging his wife, Elvira, he jubilantly handed souvenir rocks from his underground prison nearly 2,300 feet below to laughing rescuers.

    Then he jumped up and down as if to prove his strength before the medical team took him away.

    A third Chilean miner, Juan Illanes, followed after another hour, the lone Bolivian, Carlos Mamani, was pulled out fourth, and the youngest miner, 19-year-old Jimmy Sanchez, was fifth.

    Through the first five rescues, the operation brought up a miner roughly every hour, holding to a schedule announced earlier to get all out in about 36 hours.

    Then, rescuers paused to lubricate the spring-loaded wheels that give the capsule a smooth ride through the hard-rock shaft.

    When the last man surfaces, it promises to end a national crisis that began when 700,000 tons of rock collapsed August 5, sealing the men in the lower reaches of the mine.