Monday, May 08, 2006

Good news from Australia...they're out and about!

Todd Russell hugs his family

The two miners who were trapped in a kennel sized cage almost 3,000 feet underground two weeks ago are free again..and Australians are ecstatic about it.

Hundreds of well-wishers gathered at the mine entrance erupted in cheers when Brant Webb, 37, and Todd Russell, 34, walked out of the Beaconsfield Gold Mine in Tasmania early Tuesday and punched the air, freed by rescue crews drilling around-the-clock by hand.

The 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 carried out by all miners when they finish a shift. Unbelievable.

"I am amazed at their condition," said mine manager Matthew Gill.

TV networks cut live to the news from all over Australia, and the men have become national heroes...not only because the drama rivited Australia but becauase of the two men's spirits and courage under excrutiating conditions.

"I just want to say how relieved and elated the whole country is and what a huge tribute this is, the way everybody has pulled together," Prime Minister John Howard told Australian television's Nine Network.

Webb and Russell were buried after a small earthquake April 25 trapped the safety cage they were working in under tons of rock.

Their fellow miner Larry Knight, 44, was killed, and Tuesday's rescue came hours before Knight's family planned to hold his funeral. Gill said the two survivors made a point of saying they wanted to attend the services for their workmate.

Teams of specialist miners bored through more than 45 feet of hard rock over the past week with a giant drilling machine to reach the men. But cutting the final sections of the escape tunnel was slow and difficult; the rescuers had to use hand tools to avoid causing a cave-in.

For 300 hours, the two miners had huddled in the 4-foot-tall cage, too short to stand up in, until rescuers broke through the last crust of rock, five times harder than concrete, to reach them. Towards the end, the two trapped miners began helping the rescuers out by drilling from their side.

The two ambulances drove the men, both sporting beards, slowly out the mine gates, with the doors open so crowds could see them. Hundreds of townsfolk lined the streets, clapping and cheering as the vehicles passed by on the way to a local hospital.

After the miners had left Beaconsfield hundreds of locals packed the local pub for an early morning celebration...I guess opening hours were advanced a bit!

Webb and Russell survived because a huge slab of rock landed on their safety cage, forming a roof that kept them from being crushed.

For five days they lived on a single cereal bar and water they licked from rocks, until rescue crews with thermal heat sensors detected them April 30 ands realized they were alive .The rescue team forced a narrow pipe through a hole drilled through the rock and pushed through supplies including water, vitamins and fresh clothing.

Comforts such as iPods, an inflatable mattress, egg and chicken sandwiches and even ice pops followed.

Throughout the rescue, the good spirits of the miners, both married with three children, amazed those struggling to reach them. During the rescue work, when no one was sure how it all would end up, the miners kept things loose for themselves and the rescue team with a constant stream of jokes and quips...and not a trace of whinging.

One man asked for a newspaper so he could start scanning the classifieds for another job. Another said that once freed, he wants the ambulance to stop at McDonald's on the way to the hospital.

Congratulations to Webb and Russel on pulling through in such fine form. Australia is right to be proud of your courage and grit in adversity. Hey, we all should be..everybody loves a hero.

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