Chilean rescuers hoisted 33 trapped miners to safety on Wednesday as millions watched round the globe and church bells pealed across the nation after a two-month underground ordeal.
In a complicated but flawless operation under Chile's far northern desert, Luis Urzua, who was shift leader when the mine collapsed in early August, emerged last through 2,050 feet of rock in a metal capsule little wider than a man's shoulders.
With much of the world transfixed on TV, celebrations erupted and the miners, who set a world record for survival underground, were welcomed as national heroes outside the San Jose gold and copper mine in the Atacama desert.
"I hand the shift over to you and hope this never happens again," Urzua, 54, wearing sunglasses to protect his eyes, told a waiting and emotional President Sebastian Pinera.
Bells and horns sounded throughout the South American country in celebration, while a crowd outside the mine chanted "Viva Chile" amid smiles, tears and a sea of red-white-and-blue national flags.
Rescuers held up a sign in Spanish reading: "Mission Accomplished" before ascending themselves after the 33 miners were evacuated. Some people compared the 24-hour operation to the mid-space rescue of the Apollo 13 crew 40 years ago.
Congratulations poured in from abroad, with US President Barack Obama hailing the rescue as an inspiration to the world.