2 Australian Miners Found After 6 Days

Miners, part of a rescue team, through a window of the winch house at the Beaconsfield Gold Mine, in Beaconsfield, Australia, Monday May 1, 2006, where two gold miners have been trapped nearly 1 kilometer (3,000 feet) underground for almost a week. AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

Wedged inside the cramped cage that saved their lives and drinking rancid water dripping through rocks trapping them nearly 3,000 feet under ground, Brant Webb and Todd Russell wanted just one thing when rescuers finally made contact: bacon and eggs.

But on Monday, six days after the pair were trapped in Tasmania state's Beaconsfield Gold Mine, rescuers instead passed them biscuits and fresh water through a hole bored through 40 feet of collapsed rock.

Mine manager Matthew Gill said a four inch diameter pipe had been burrowed through the rock and through it the trapped miners received their first food since the cave-in April 25.

They were overjoyed to receive sustenance, initially the biscuits and water, then vitamin tablets and a protein drink, Gill said.

"The critical focus is to ensure that they have sufficient food to allow them ... to continue to be where they are while we affect the safest possible means of getting them out safely and not jeopardizing the rescuers' lives either," he told reporters, adding that it could take another two days to free the men.

The tight-knit community living around the mine was still rejoicing Monday at the news that the two men had been found alive 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 Sunday just hours after dozens of Beaconsfield residents gathered at a local church to pray for them.

One word was one everybody's lips.

"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. They are uninjured.

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 Monday it likely will take another two days of painstaking drilling work to create a tunnel wide enough to extract Russell and Webb. Mine workers were hoping to send some food and fresh water to them later Monday, but one expert said fulfilling the men's initial request for a cooked breakfast after their days with little or no food would be a bad idea.

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

Members of Knight's family were among hundreds of people who converged on Russell's home to celebrate 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. "They were the brave people."

Prime Minister John Howard paid tribute Monday to the people of Beaconsfield, saying they had shown "incredible resilience" as they waited, refusing to give up hope, for news of the missing men.

"All Australians will share the joy of the families of the two miners found alive at Beaconsfield, and that of the local community," he said. "We must all hope that the two men are safely brought to the surface, and reunited with their loved ones."

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

"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.
  • Melissa McNamara

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