Two men entombed in an Australian gold mine for a week will likely be freed without major medical problems, a rescue official said yesterday, as a special drill was assembled to bore through tons of collapsed rock.
Rescuers decided to end the drilling and blasting method late on Monday because of the risk of triggering another fatal cave-in at the century-old Beaconsfield Gold Mine in Tasmania state, where miners Brant Webb, 37, and Todd Russell, 34, have been trapped in cramped conditions almost 1km underground since April 25.
Supplies sent down
Rescuers managed to reach the pair with a narrow pipe late on Monday and pumped through the first fresh water and food the miners' had received in six days, after a small earthquake triggered a rock collapse that sealed the men in and killed one of their workmates
Heat packs and fresh batteries for the men's helmet lamps were also sent down, as well as blankets and dry clothing, health officials said.
Tasmanian Medical Retrieval Services director Andrew Hughes said a medical team was in constant contact with the men, who suffered only superficial injuries to their hands from attempts to dig themselves out.
"We are fairly optimistic at this stage that these men will be removed alive without any major medical problems," Hughes told reporters.
One of the miners had had his leg pinned under rock for a couple of hours, but was able to free it without injury, Hughes said. Hughes didn't say which miner.
Tasmania Ambulance Service Superintendent Wolfgang Rechberger said the men were able to crawl short distances.
"That certainly indicates they've still got good sensation, good movement of all limbs," Rechberger said.
Mine manager Matthew Gill said the raise borer being assembled -- a revolving circular head with cutting tips 1m in diameter -- would be a slower but safer way of tunneling through the 12m of solid rock that has trapped the pair beneath a safety cage.
The rescue is expected to take at least 48 hours after the borer starts drilling, Australian Workers' Union national secretary Bill Shorten said yesterday.
"This is a form of tunnel boring. It turns the rock in front of a machine into dirt," Shorten said. "It's less violent in its impact to the environment around it so it causes less repercussions to the rock."
`I've had enough'
The men, who can now communicate with the rescue team by shouting, resigned from their jobs on Monday, Australian Broadcasting Corp radio reported yesterday.
"Todd Russell said: `I've had enough. You can take your job, I don't want it,'" ABC reported. "And Brant Webb agreed with him."
News that the pair were still alive came on Sunday just hours after dozens of Beaconsfield residents gathered at a local church to pray for them.