Wed, May 10, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Australia cheers as miners walk free

AP , BEACONSFIELD, AUSTRALIA

Todd Russell, left, and Brant Webb, center, wave yesterday as they emerge from the Beaconsfield gold mine in Tasmania, having been rescued after 14 days underground.

PHOTO: AFP

Two Australian miners who had survived for two weeks in a tiny cage a kilometer underground walked out of the Beaconsfield Gold Mine yesterday and punched the air, freed by rescue crews drilling round-the-clock by hand.

Hundreds of well-wishers who gathered at the mine erupted in cheers when Brant Webb, 37, and Todd Russell, 34, emerged, their head torches glowing in the pre-dawn light -- but joy turned to grief later in the day as mourners gathered to bury a third miner who died in the accident.

"There's not many things in life that take us through so many emotions at the same time," said Graham Mulligan, spokesman for a Christian motorcycle club that escorted Larry Knight's coffin from the church to a nearby cemetery.

TV networks cut live to the news that the men -- who were buried on April 25 after an earthquake trapped their safety cage under tons of rock -- had been saved.

A fire engine drove with its siren wailing through Beaconsfield, a town in Tasmania. A church bell not used since the end of World War II rang out in celebration. Prime Minister John Howard hailed the rescue as "a wonderful demonstration of Australian mateship."

The freed miners bear-hugged family and friends before clambering into two ambulances, still laughing and joking. Before going, they removed their identity tags from the wall outside the elevator -- a standard safety measure for all miners when they finish a shift.

They handed out small cards that read: "The Great Escape. To all who have helped and supported us and our families, we cannot wait to shake your hand."

By last night, Russell had recovered enough to go for a bourbon and Coke at his local pub.

Hours earlier, he attended the funeral of 44-year-old Knight, which had been delayed by the miner's family in hopes his trapped colleagues could attend. Hundreds of Beaconsfield residents went to the service, but it was not immediately clear if Webb was among them.

Doctors who examined the men said they lost weight but were in good physical shape.

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