After the Chilean mine collapsed on August 5, shift boss Luis Urzua divided the lone cans of tuna in the dark cave among the men to keep them alive.
Without food, light or contact with the outside world for days, the shift boss organized the 32 others into three work shifts. He kept them busy, and he helped keep them alive. He led the group that was forced into living in continual darkness – and kept their spirits and solidarity in tact as they faced living in a cramped area with high humidity and hot temperatures.
And it was Urzua, 54, who first established contact with the outside world on August 22, 17 days after the mine collapsed, trapping him and his men. On that day, before even asking for help or about a rescue, he wanted to know the fate of the other men who had left the mine right before its collapse. He was thrilled and cheered on the phone that day.
But two days later he shared the anxieties of the state of the trapped miners.
"Under a sea of rock, we are waiting for the whole of Chile to pull hard so that we can be taken out of this hell," he told Chilean President Sebastian Pinera during their first phone call on August 24.
Inside the underground cavern, Urzua, who has worked in mining 31 years, pored over diagrams of the mine, working with rescuers to construct a plan for the escape.
And so it was fitting that he would be the one – who offered – to be the last man out. Only after all the other men were each lifted to safety one by one would Urzua leave the mine.
Twenty-two and a half hours after the rescue began, at 8:55 p.m. ET Wednesday, that moment finally came. Urzua spent the longest inside that trapped mine out of everyone.
Video inside the mine looked darker – the Chilean flag that had been sent down to the men and put up on the walls was now bare. Urzua was taking it with him.
He shook hands and hugged the remaining rescue workers who were still below. And then just like each man before him, Urzua was harnessed and locked into Fenix 2, the capsule marked in the colors of Chile, and made the trip up through the rescue shaft that workers so diligently drilled for months.
As he reached close to ground level, signaled by a blaring signal, the way it did for each man before him, emotions on the ground reached a fever pitch. Several sirens were blaring. The crowd erupted into applause – and Pinera, the Chilean president, clasped his hands together and held a wide smile on his face – and finally a sign of relief.
Chants of "Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le!" rang out as it had for each miner. But this one was different – it went on longer and louder. The unthinkable had been done – 33 men defied the odds and survived what is likely to have been longest underground disaster.
The rescue capsule finally reached the surface, and the crowd erupted again at the site of Urzua's face.
"We prevailed over imperfect conditions," a worker at the site said.
Finally free, Urzua shared with the world what the miners experienced after the collapse in the mine.
"The most difficult moment was when the air cleared and we saw the rock," Urzua said in broadcast remarks from the rescue site immediately after his rescue. "I had thought maybe it was going to be a day or two days, but when I saw the rock. ..."
He said it was not easy to "keep our composure" after the first couple of days.
"We thought this was going to be difficult," he said.
The crowd broke into the Chilean national anthem.
Urzua emerged from the capsule with the flag that no doubt helped keep faith alive inside a rescue area where there once was none. And much of that was perhaps due to Urzua's guidance and leadership during the ordeal.
After hugging a family member, Urzua embraced Pinera, and they clutched each other's hands before breathing a sigh of relief.
"You have won the appreciation and the gratitude of all the Chileans," Pinera told Urzua. "You deserve it."
Pinera echoed the praise in a televised address.
"He was a shift boss who made us proud," Pinera told Chileans after the rescues. "I want to thank the families of the miners who maintained faith – this faith that ended up moving mountains."
For Urzua it was a moment of thanks – and hope.
"I hope this will never happen again. I hope that the Chilean mining will be different, that things will be done correctly" said the last man out of the gold and copper mine. "I'm proud of being Chilean."