SAN JOSÉ MINE, Chile — The miners emerged like clockwork, jubilantly embracing wives, children and rescuers and looking remarkably composed Wednesday after languishing for 69 days in the depths of a mine that easily could have been their tomb.
Sixteen men were pulled from the mine by around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, putting the rescue on track to end before the sun rises Thursday, barring any major glitches.
The anxiety that accompanied the final days of preparation melted away at 12:11 a.m. when the stoutest of the 33 miners, Florencio Ávalos, emerged from the missile-like rescue capsule smiling broadly after his half-mile journey to the surface.
In a din of cheers, he hugged his sobbing 7-year-old son and wife and then President Sebastián Piñera, who has been deeply involved in an effort that became a matter of national pride.
The most ebullient of the bunch came out second, an hour later.
"I think I had extraordinary luck. I was with God and with the devil. And I reached out for God," said Mario Sepúlveda as he awaited the air force helicopter ride to a nearby hospital where all the miners were to spend 48 hours under medical observation.
The miners have survived more time trapped underground than anyone on record, and the world was captivated by their endurance and unity as officials carefully planned their rescue.
Health Minister Jaime Mañalich told a news conference after eight miners were rescued that all of them were in good health, and none has needed any special medication, not even the diabetic among them.
After the fifth miner made his ascent, the rescuers paused to lubricate the spring-loaded wheels that gave the 13-foot-tall capsule a smooth ride through the shaft. Then they brought up the sixth and seventh miners.
The ninth, Mario Gómez, the oldest miner at 63, came up about an hour later and dropped to his knees and bowed his head in prayer. His wife, Lilianette Ramírez, pulled him up from the ground and embraced him. Gómez has silicosis, a lung disease common to miners, and has been on antibiotics and bronchial inflammation medicine.
When the last man surfaces, it promises to end a national crisis that began when 700,000 tons of rock collapsed Aug. 5, sealing the 33 in the lower reaches of the mine. For 17 days after that, no one even knew whether the miners had survived.