SAN JOSÉ MINE, Chile — The first of 33 miners who had been trapped underground for two months ascended to the surface here early Wednesday morning, the beginning of the end of a rescue operation that has inspired the nation and riveted the world.
The miner, Florencio Ávalos, 31, traveled up a narrow, nearly half-mile rescue shaft in a specially designed capsule that officials had been testing for much of Tuesday. Shortly after midnight, horns blared as the capsule reached the surface with Mr. Ávalos inside. With a look of sturdy calm, he hugged his family, his nation’s president and the workers around him before being taken away on a stretcher, giving a thumbs-up as he left.
The rescue had finally begun.
“This is a marvelous start,” said Rodrigo Pedreros, 34, a fireman watching at the mine. “I’m praying it all goes well.”
Deep in the mine, 32 other miners waited for their turn, along with a rescue worker who had descended to their underground haven in the narrow capsule, which was painted with the red, white and blue of the Chilean flag.
When the rescuer finally reached the miners late Tuesday, he was greeted with enthusiastic handshakes from the men.
The day had been one of great excitement and last-minute delays. As President Sebastián Piñera waited anxiously near the rescue hole, the families of the miners and more than 1,300 journalists gathered around plasma televisions set up at Camp Hope, the makeshift tent city that vibrated with a carnival-like atmosphere as the rescue drew near. At one point, Mr. Piñera mingled with the families and even broke into song with them.
“The day has finally arrived,” said Marta Mesías, 51, the aunt of one miner, Claudio Yáñez, 34. “We’re going to toast him with champagne, and feed him a bit of roasted chicken.”
The operation is expected to take one to two days, with Luis Urzúa, 54, the shift leader who organized the miners’ lives in the mine, the last to come up.
The race to save the miners has thrust Chile into a spotlight it has often sought but rarely experienced. While lauded for its economic management and austerity, the nation has often found the world’s attention trained more on its human rights violations and natural disasters than on uplifting moments.
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