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News Networks Begin Wall-to-Wall Coverage of Mine Rescue Operation

At 10:18pmET tonight, Manuel Gonzales, the first of several rescuers began to descend into a mine shaft to begin the process of retrieving 33 miners who’ve been trapped deep under the Chilean desert for 69 days. 18 Minutes later, at 10:36, Gonzales had arrived 2,040 feet below the desert. And all of it was captured live on television — both on the surface and down below — and is being broadcast around the world.

The coverage on U.S. channels had begun hours earlier, and will continue overnight and into tomorrow.

“The O’Reilly Factor,” the highest-rated show on cable news, ran in its entirety at 8pm with the action from the mine site running in a split screen at times. “Hannity” at 9pm included more rescue coverage with Shepard Smith contributing from New York and correspondents Steve Harrigan and Adam Housley in Chile. “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” devoted the entire show to the rescue.

MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” at 8pm ran a regularly scheduled show including a live report from NBC’s Kerry Sanders from the mine site. Rachel Maddow at 9pm ramped up coverage including a Q&A with Natalie Morales also on site at the mine. By 10pm, Lawerence O’Donnell was anchoring continuing coverage as the first miner, Florencio Avalos entered the capsule at 10:55pm for his ascent to the surface. O’Donnell: “We haven’t had cameras in a position like this before in a crisis like this. To be able to deliver this imagery. This is awe inspiring at every level.”

CNN preempted “Parker-Spitzer” at 8pm in lieu of live coverage of the preparations anchored by Anderson Cooper, with Larry King picking up at 9pm and Cooper returning at 10pm. In the minutes leading up to Avalos’ return to the surface, correspondent Gary Tuchman, who arrived on site Monday, called it “the ultimate live shot.” Tuchman admitted that although he and his media colleagues are a stone’s throw from the mine shaft, TV viewers have a much better perspective with the multiple cameras used in the operation.

>> Update: 11:11pmET: The first miner, Florencio Avalos, emerged from the capsule, safe.

>> More: ABC’s “Nightline” will be a special hour long broadcast tonight with Bill Weir anchoring live from San Jose, Chile.

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