Some miners cheered their rescuers, and threw up their arms in exuberant victory salutes. Some fell to their knees, and prayed to God in thanks. They didn't look confused or dazed or sick. They just looked thrilled to be alive.
Thirty-three men, 33 resurrections. It was the best reality TV the world could ever hope to see - a triumph of ingenuity, courage, faith, skill and astonishing teamwork and collaboration. It was indeed a miracle - a man-made one. God answered the Chilean miners' prayers, and ours. But God had a big assist from the engineers.
When the men, trapped since Aug. 5 nearly half a mile underground, were discovered alive on Aug. 22, people scarcely dared to hope for this. No other men buried so deep for so long had ever been seen alive again. Yet, one by one, they rose up in that tiny capsule - dubbed the Phoenix - through a dark and narrow birth canal, and stepped out into the light: the boy, the great-grandfather, the poet, the lonely Bolivian.
There was the man who has promised to renew his vows to his wife of 25 years, this time with a proper Catholic ceremony and a proper wedding dress. And there was the man who asked both his wife and his mistress to come and greet him. (The mistress showed up, but not the wife.) Second chances change us all. "I am not being rescued," wrote Victor Zamora, the poet, in a letter to his mother. "I am being reborn."
As they surfaced, the men were clearly determined to be strong, to maintain their dignity and honour. They were clean and freshly shaved. No one cried - not, at least, so you could tell. That would not be manly.
In the hours and weeks before the rescue, the miners were repeatedly portrayed as fragile souls who would need a lot of help adjusting to the outside world again. There was endless talk about the post-traumatic stress and depression they would inevitably suffer. Yet, they struck me as remarkably resilient. In their two months underground, they had obviously forged a bond. They had survived the terrible uncertainty of not knowing if, or when, rescue would come.
They never asked for anti-depressants, or even an Aspirin. All they wanted was some cigarettes, and they were rightly outraged when all they got was nicotine patches. Eventually, they got their cigarettes - as well as a crucifix and some statuettes, so they could erect a shrine. They prayed and sang Elvis songs. When God and Elvis are on your side, maybe you don't need much psychotherapy.
This inspiring tale has other heroes - the engineers and technologists who pitched in to pull off the near-impossible. The rescue hole was devised by Greg Hall, an American mining engineer who figured he could find a way to turn a 5.5-inch drill hole into a 22.5-inch one - just big enough for a man. But that was just the start. The angle of the hole, the composition of the rock and the danger to the men below made it the hardest hole anyone has ever drilled. "It fought us to the very last moment," said Mr. Hall.
Now that the miners are free, the exploitation of their story is, alas, inevitable. "I make a plea to the media to not treat us as like an artist or a show-business figure," beseeched Mario Sepulveda Espina, the second miner to be rescued. "I would like you to show me how I am: a miner." Good luck with that. The men will need every bit of their resilience to survive the circus that will now assault them. They'll be lucky if the bonds they forged in adversity survive their new-found fame and fortune.
But that's a story for another day. Today's story is a joyous one. Mining is still a cruel and dirty business in most places, and it exacts an awful price. For centuries, men and boys have gone beneath the earth, and their wives, their children and their parents have hoped and prayed they'd come back alive. This time, they did.