Thirty-three of 39 miners who were trapped underground in northern Ontario since Sunday have returned safely to the surface, the workers' union said Tuesday as a rescue operation continued.
United Steelworkers, which represents workers trapped at Totten Mine near Sudbury, Ont., said it was pleased with the progress of the operation, which has required miners to scale a series of ladders to climb out.
Vale, the company that owns the mine, said it expects everyone to emerge Tuesday.
Henry Bertrand, one of the first miners to reach the surface, told local reporters early Tuesday that he had been with a small group working about 650 metres underground. It took him a little more than two hours to make the climb out.
"I'm happy to be out, for sure," he said, explaining that he'd had to climb two sets of ladders, rest on a landing and then continue up. "It's a trek. It's hard on the arms."
There was a larger group of miners about 960 metres below the surface, Bertrand said.
"A few gentlemen down there have health issues and stuff, so they'll need assistance to come up," he said.
Bertrand added, however, that he hadn't been too worried and took his time climbing out.
"It wasn't a cave-in or anything like that, no one was in harm's way," he said, noting that workers had been able to phone loved ones and were sent sandwiches and other snacks to eat.
"We stayed positive and cracked jokes and stuff like that."
The employees were trapped in the mine on Sunday when a scoop bucket being sent underground detached and blocked the mine shaft, Vale said.
As a result, it said the "conveyance system" for taking workers to and from the surface became unavailable.
The union, which represents 30 of the 39 staff members who were trapped in the mine, said a team of doctors is checking on the workers.
"No one has been physically injured in the incident or in the evacuation," the union said in a statement.
Vale said the trapped miners have been staying in underground "refuge stations," some 900 to 1,200 metres below the surface, as part of the company's standard procedures.
The workers began making their way out Monday night through what the company called a "a secondary egress ladder system."
"We thank the impacted employees for their patience and perseverance and the mine rescue teams for their tireless dedication and support," said Gord Gilpin, head of mining for Vale's Ontario operations. "This has been an incredible team effort."
The company said the trapped miners had access to food, water and medicine.
"When an incident like this unfortunately happens, everyone comes together," said Nick Larochelle, president of USW Local 6500.
"The miners support each other, the highly trained mine rescue teams come together and the whole community waits patiently praying for the safe return of every one of the 39 miners to surface."
Totten Mine opened in 2014, in Worthington, Ont., and produces copper, nickel and precious metals. It employs about 200 people.
The province's Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development said an inspection team will investigate the incident once the rescue operation is finished.