The last 5 came to the surface moments ago. They were holed up in the farthest reaches of the mine and the only factor delaying the process Monday morning was the sheer distance that must be travelled, said Marshall Hamilton, a spokesman for Mosaic Co., the American-based owners of the facility.
"It's just a huge mine," Hamilton said. "Our mine footprint is approximately 20 kilometres by 30 kilometres and it takes people a long time to get from the shaft out to those workers."
The miners were trapped when fire broke out in polyethylene piping nearly a kilometre underground at about 3 a.m. local time Sunday.
The burning pipe proved a challenge for rescuers to extinguish, Hamilton said, as it burned "like a wick" filling the tunnels with toxic smoke.
The miners retreated to so-called refuge stations - spacious chambers that can be sealed off and are equipped with supplies of oxygen, food and water.
Thirty-two of the miners were brought to the surface at about 3:30 a.m. local time, and another 35 came out a couple of hours later.
Company executives praised the rescue effort saying everything went according to plan.
At the same time, Mosaic CEO Fritz Corrigan promised a thorough investigation into the cause of the fire.
"Safety is a core part of our culture at Mosaic," Corrigan said. "Our actions today have demonstrated this. We want to have our workers leave our mines everyday as safe as when they arrived for their shift work."
The mine, which was Saskatchewan's first potash operation when it opened in 1962, is located about 200 kilometres northeast of Regina.
Brian Hagan, director of health and safety for Dynatech, the contracted company for which the first group of freed miners worked, said the workers reacted properly to the incident.
"These guys knew there was something wrong . . . they protected themselves and that is what they are trained to do.
"They waited it out and the mine rescue team came and got them and that is the way that these scenarios are supposed to happen."
Hagan said his men weren't exposed to any smoke, and the biggest hardship was waiting until they were rescued.
"A lot of them said they had a good sleep down there in the refuge station," he said. "They were pretty calm.
"They had water, they had food, they had all the stuff that they needed."
Rob Dyck, one of the members of the rescue team that was responsible for freeing the trapped miners, said the fire created a lot of smoke, but they were able to push through.
"There certainly was lots of smoke," Dyck said. "It was hot, dusty, but our training came through and we were able to accomplish our mission.
"We've been in smoke before, but probably nothing this complicated."
Despite the 24-hour time line, things seemed to happen rather quickly for Hugh Davis, another member of the rescue team.
"To tell you the truth, it's a blur," Davis said. "It was an excellent feeling to go in and see that the people were there, all well and wanting to go home.
"They were just happy to see us."
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