Tue, May 02, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Race on to rescue trapped miners

`MIRACLE' Two Australian miners trapped underground for six days were discovered to be alive, although they face a tough couple of days before they can be rescued


Noel Russell (left), father of trapped miner Todd Russell, hugs one of his son's workmates who helped in the rescue effort after the announcement that Russell and Brant Webb were still alive, at Beaconsfield, northern Tasmania, on Sunday.


Wedged inside the cramped cage that saved their lives and drinking rancid water dripping through rocks trapping them nearly a kilometer under ground, Brant Webb and Todd Russell wanted just one thing when rescuers finally made contact: bacon and eggs.

They're unlikely to get that any time in the next couple of days as rescuers who fear a second deadly rock collapse in Tasmania state's Beaconsfield Gold Mine drill carefully through 12m of rock to reach them.

The tight-knit community living around the mine was still rejoicing yesterday at news that the two men were still alive, six days after a small earthquake triggered a rock collapse that killed one of their workmates and sealed them deep underground.

The news they were still alive came just hours after dozens of Beaconsfield residents gathered at a local church to pray for the men on Sunday.

"Beaconsfield is the center of a mining miracle," said Australian Workers Union national secretary Bill Shorten.

"They say miracles happen. I didn't think there was going to be one at Beaconsfield," was local mayor Barry Easther's view.

The full story of their survival has yet to emerge but Russell, 34, and 37-year-old Webb apparently were saved by a slab of rock that fell onto the protective cage of their cherry picker and prevented smaller rocks slamming into them. Enough oxygen got through to the men to keep them alive.

On Sunday afternoon rescuers managed to drill a tiny tunnel all the way to the place where they were trapped. After feeding a local media cameraman's microphone through the narrow hole they established a line of communication.

Russell's first words to his rescuers included an expletive and were short and to the point.

"It's [extremely] cold and cramped in here. Get us out," he said.

Those two brief sentences -- the first confirmation in five days he had survived -- unleashed a wave of relief over both men's families -- and the miners who had toiled for five days to reach them.

"When a man rushed through the door, covered in mud and crying, we thought that was the bad news," said Michael Kelly, Webb's father-in-law. "He burst into the room and fell down on his knees in front of [Webb's wife Rachael] and sobbed `He's alive.'"

Officials said yesterday would likely take another two days of painstaking drilling work to create a tunnel wide enough to extract Russell and Webb.

Yesterday's joy was tempered by sympathy for the family of Larry Knight, who was crushed in the initial rock collapse whose body was retrieved on Thursday.

Members of Knight's family were among hundreds of people who converged on Russell's home to celebrate on Sunday night.

"Last night, Larry's family came down onto our front lawn with those 200 people and told us how lucky we were and shared our happiness, with their grief. I was grateful," Russell's father Noel told Australian television's Seven network.

Despite the agonizing ordeal Russell's family also has gone through, they had not lost their sense of humor yesterday.

"Todd's putting in for meal allowance, overtime pay and living away from home allowance, so I hope they've got their check book ready," Russell's mother Kaye Russell said.

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