The rescue exceeded expectations every step of the way. Initially, officials said it might December before the men could get out. Once the drill that opened the escape shaft pierced the men's subterranean prison, they estimated it would take 36 to 48 hours to get everyone out.
The actual time: 22 hours, 39 minutes.
The only real glitch was indeed minor — it became bit difficult to open and close the escape capsule's door as the day wore on, said Laurence Golborne, the mining minister who Pinera put in charge of the rescue. Early Thursday morning, the last rescuer who helped the miners into the escape capsule came up safely to end the operation.
Golborne has won high marks for his deft management of the closely scrutinized rescue, and Chilean media have been abuzz with discussion of him as Pinera's most likely successor. Elected in December 2009 to a four-year term, Pinera is constitutionally barred from running again.
Once rescued, the miners were taken to a hospital in Copiapo for observation
Initially, officials said all would be there a full 48 hours after emerging from the mine. But Health Minister Jaime Manalich said some would probably be able to leave Thursday.
"They are being kept more as a preventative measure than to treat anything," First lady Cecilia Morel told The Associated Press. Better to be in the hospital "than at home where they could be given meat and fried pork rinds."
All but a few of the men emerged in very good health, officials said.
Manalich said many had been unable to sleep, wanted to talk with families and were anxious. One was treated for pneumonia, and two needed dental work.
But it became clear that they also faced emotional challenges from their ordeal.
Dr. Guillermo Swett said miner Jimmy Sanchez, at 19, the youngest of the group and the father of a 4-month-old baby, appeared to be having a hard time adjusting and seemed depressed.
"He spoke very little and didn't seem to connect," Swett said.
Chile has promised to care for the miners for six months at least — until they can be sure each man has readjusted.
Psychiatrists and other experts predict their lives will be anything but normal.
Pinera said he would visit all of them in the hospital Thursday and then host them at the government palace in Santiago, the capital.
Previously unimaginable riches awaited men who had risked their lives going into the unstable mine for about $1,600 a month.
At some point, the men will need to decide whether they will return to the mines.
Many of their relatives are dead-set against it, but they also acknowledged that they probably couldn't stop the miners from going down again.
Mario Medina Mejia, a local geologist. said plenty of Chilean miners have returned underground after close calls, and he compared it to sailors who survive shipwrecks only to ply the waves again.
"If they need the work they will return to the mine," he said. "It's their life, their culture, the way they make their living."