These were the words spoken by the President of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, when the leader of the 33 miners, Luis Urzua, was rescued early this morning. As befits such a heroic figure, he made sure that he was the last of the miners to be saved, putting his 32 subordinates before him. Please see the video below of his evacuation.

Santiago residents cheer during a rally in Plaza Italia after all 33 miners trapped in the San Jose Mine were rescued near Copiapo, Chile on October 13, 2010. An accident trapped 33 miners for more than two months more than 2,000 feet below the surface.  UPI/JORGE PERALTA Photo via Newscom

The mine collapsed on August 5, preventing any method for the miners to leave the dark hole in which they were trapped. Urzua, who was the shift boss at the time of the cave in, took charge immediately. Their food, cans of tuna, was intended to keep 30 people nourished for 2 days. He rationed it so that it lasted at least 17 days, until rescuers were able to send more rations.

He divided his men into three work shifts to keep their spirits up, while waiting in the darkness and high temperatures for any sign that people outside had reached them. When contact was finally established, Urzua’s first question related to the safety of miners whose shift ended shortly before the cave-in. Once supplies were able to be sent down, Urzua asked for a diagram of the escape plan, and helped the rescuers from above.

By the way, I saw during the news an interview with the spokesman for the American drilling company that designed the hole that eventually served to evacuate the miners. He said that his crew had all returned to this nation over the weekend. When asked why they left before the rescue, he said (sic) “This is a day for the people of Chile. In order to be a great nation, it must attempt to accomplish great things.” The point he was making, I think, is that he didn’t want his American firm’s efforts to overshadow Chilean workers, in this, one of their greatest moments of national pride.

Urzua kept his men’s spirits up during the 70 days of their captivity nearly a mile below the surface. He never gave up hope, and didn’t allow any of his workers spirits to flag either. So, yes, Mr. Urzua, your long, long shift is over. Everyone in the world is grateful for you. Arriba.

Here is the video of Uzua being greeted by the outside world.