OTTAWA (AFP) - The last of 39 miners trapped one kilometre underground in eastern Canada for nearly three days climbed to the surface early on Wednesday (Sept 29) and were greeted by family, officials said.
Brazilian mining company Vale congratulated rescuers in a statement for "bringing our 39 employees home safe and healthy."
"This was tremendous news flowing from very difficult circumstances," said company chief executive officer Eduardo Bartolomeo, who met with miners and rescuers in Sudbury, Ontario.
The Canadian province's premier Doug Ford also tweeted his relief that the miners emerged "safely above ground and uninjured."
Kyle Arcand, on his way home after being freed, told public broadcaster CBC that he and fellow miners had suffered "a lot of anxiety... because you don't know exactly when you're going to come out, or how long you're going to be down there."
According to a statement from their union, the last of four miners who made their way to the surface on Wednesday exited at 4.45am local time (4.45pm Singapore time). The rescue operation started Monday night.
Each miner was medically checked after making the long climb to the surface, and their health will continue to be monitored over the coming days, it said.
"Mining is much safer than it once was," local union branch boss Marty Warren commented. "But miners take a great deal of risk every time they go underground. We must never forget that."
The miners became trapped Sunday afternoon after an accident damaged their transport system, cutting off access to the main exit.
Vale said a heavy scoop bucket had detached from and collided with the conveyance system at about 200m below the surface, rendering it unusable.
Officials described a painstakingly slow process using ropes and ladders to help the miners - who'd had minimal food and sleep - climb 900m up a secondary egress.
During the operation, rescue crews made up to four trips per shift up and down to the mine bottom, carrying heavy packs of supplies to the miners.
All operations at the Totten mine - which employs 200 people - have been halted since Sunday, and Vale says it will conduct an assessment before resuming production.
Gilpin said the impact to the mine's operations was "significant."
The mine had closed in 1972, but Vale completed refit work and reopened it in 2014. In the first six months of 2021, about 3,600 tonnes of finished nickel were extracted from it.