Sat, May 06, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Trapped Australian miners holding up well

GRIN AND BEAR IT Brant Webb and Todd Russell haven't lost their sense of humor despite being trapped almost 1km underground for the past 10 days

AFP , BEACONSFIELD, AUSTRALIA

A message from a rock star, lemonade ice blocks and banter with their boss kept up the spirits of two Australian miners trapped underground for 10 days yesterday, as rescuers proceeded slowly with drilling an escape tunnel.

Brant Webb, 37, and Todd Russell, 35, were trapped almost 1km underground inside the Beaconsfield Gold Mine on April 25 by a massive rockfall inside their shaft.

They were given up as dead until discovered five days later, sparking an international news frenzy which has continued to build as media companies compete to secure rights to the stories of the men and their families.

Rescuers have embarked on the perilous task of drilling a 16m-long tunnel 1m in diameter to the men from an unobstructed mine shaft, but the pace of the rescue has been slow.

"The drilling has progressed about five-and-a-half meters and so that's not bad, that's not bad progress," mine manager Matthew Gill told reporters.

Gill refused to speculate on how much longer it would take to free the men, who have been cramped inside a tiny metal cage surrounded by rock since seismic activity caused the rock fall 10 days ago.

"As I've said previously, what we are doing is unique. It's unfair to set deadlines and then get expectations up that we then miss. These guys know we are doing everything possible," he said.

Gill said despite the delays in bringing the men to the surface, the pair had been able to sleep overnight and were in good spirits after receiving some soup on Thursday night, their first hot meal since becoming trapped.

A slim PVC pipe was connected through to the men earlier this week and they are receiving food, water, lemonade ice blocks and personal items through it as well as using it to communicate with paramedics.

Gill said the men were "stoked" to have received a message of support from rock star Dave Grohl after one of the miners requested that some of Grohl's Foo Fighters music be downloaded onto iPods sent down to them to help pass the time.

Otherwise they were concerned about how their families were coping and joked with their boss about their conditions, including the fact that one had resigned from his job from 925m below the surface.

"He wanted to know if I'd heard [about the resignation]. He said it was verbal and I said, well, I wanted to talk to him about that. So I haven't accepted his resignation," Gill said.

"We didn't talk overtime but I did talk to Brant about lying down on the job. I explained that I had seen him sleeping on the job. I explained that I must have gone soft because it's the fist time in my years in the industry that I've seen an employee sleeping on the job and left them to sleep on the job," he said.

Gill said one of the things he asked them was: "Is there anything you want to say or have a go at me?" but they declined.

"They just said `Do it safely.' They weren't concerned at the time at all," he said.

"They were appreciative of the support they are getting ... They were really appreciative of that, almost apologetic," he said.

Fellow miner Larry Knight was killed in the rockfall on April 25 and Gill said the men were aware that the final centimeters of the tunnel would be the most dangerous because of the possibility of further rock slides.

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