The Tempest

Not Exactly Shooting For \”Miss Congeniality\”

Spreading the good news…

Posted by Daniel on Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Mining Update – Australia

MINERS Todd Russell and Brant Webb emerged from the darkness and punched the cold morning air of their hometown after 14 days buried deep beneath it and strode into history yesterday morning as one of the most extraordinary escape stories ended in triumph and joy.

“You can’t kill me – you can’t kill me,” Mr Webb, 37, yelled from the open back doors of an ambulance, in an act of defiance symbolic of the miners’ survival against the odds, shortly after an emotional pre-dawn reunion with family and friends.

Only a few hours later, the miners – whose fates have captivated a global television audience – completed the Hollywood ending to their ordeal, checking themselves out of hospital.

Soon after, Mr Russell, 34, donning a suit and tie, joined hundreds of townsfolk at the funeral of workmate Larry Knight.

Knight, 44, was killed in the rock fall that entombed Mr Webb and Mr Russell 925m below the Beaconsfield goldmine at 9.23pm on Anzac Day.

The accident, caused by an earthquake believed linked to the mine’s blasting, will now become the focus of intense investigation and debate about safety standards.

But those questions were put aside yesterday as the hardened miners, trapped in a 1.2m by 2m metal cage under hundreds of tonnes of rock and rubble, were finally freed via the final 90cm vertical stage of a 36.4m rescue tunnel.

The solidly built pair defied medical advice to walk from the cage lift of the Beaconsfield mine at 5.59am and back into the world and the families they doubted they would see again.

Mr Webb, a father of teenage twins, and Mr Russell, who has three young children, threw themselves into the arms of their families and rescuers with an intensity that made a lie of earlier bravado and banter with their rescuers.

A little more than an hour before, Mr Webb was the first to be freed from the tiny metal cage, attached to a telehandler machine on which the three had been working when the quake struck.

He climbed out and into the rescue tunnel at 4.47am, followed by Mr Russell seven minutes later.

The two – known as larrikins and “typical Beacy boys” by their mates – completed a Hollywood ending to their astonishing tale of courage and endurance. They left the scene of their hellish entombment via two ambulances, lined by an honour guard of rescuers and miners.

They handed out preprinted “Great Escape” business cards as a cheeky tribute to those who had supported them in the nine days of limbo since being found alive, and the 14 days since they became trapped, initially feared dead.

“To all who have helped and supported us and our families, we cannot wait to shake your hand and shout you a Sustagen,” the cards read, in a reference to the dietary drink used to sustain the men during part of their ordeal. “Thanks is not enough.”

Outside, they waved and yelled greetings to hundreds of ecstatic townsfolk, who had gathered as sirens and church bells spread the word of the men’s release.

They insisted the ambulance doors be left open to allow a spectacular exit from the mine their families have resolved they will never again descend.

Doctors, stunned by the men’s lack of physical injuries, had no choice but to allow them to check out after a brief stay at the Launceston General Hospital so that they could attend Mr Knight’s funeral.

However, Mr Russell stayed long enough to enjoy a meal of steak, eggs and chips.

He attended the funeral and, 12 hours after his rescue, limped into his favourite pub in Beaconsfield, the Club Hotel, to loud cheers.

He did a high-five with locals as they gathered around him to wish him well, and laughing and joking went to have a drink with Nine Network chief executive Eddie McGuire.

“That Sustagen, I wouldn’t feed it to my dog,” he told Mr McGuire.

Mr Russell, who appeared in good health, drank a can of Jim Beam and cola.

But Mr Webb – resting at home and taken ill – was unable to attend the funeral. Last night, family said he was still unwell.

“He’s not real good at all,” his father-in-law, Michael Kelly, told The Australian.

The men’s families were jubilant, beaming, blowing kisses and waving as the pair were driven from the mine earlier in the day.

Mr Russell’s brother-in-law Allan Bennett summed up the feelings of family members, some of whom admitted they had given up hope the men would be found alive – until they were discovered on Sunday.

“It’s what dreams are made of, mate,” Mr Bennett said.

Just before dawn, as the pair were emerging from the mine, Australian Workers Union national secretary Bill Shorten said: “Todd and Brant are going to see the sun rise today, which is not something a lot of people assumed when they had the tragic rock fall that killed Larry Knight on Anzac Day night.”

John Howard, criticised for not visiting Beaconsfield during the drama, said so many elements of the story were testament to the spirit of Australian mateship.

Mr Howard singled out the Knight family’s “special act of mateship” in delaying Larry’s funeral until his mates had a chance to attend.

“So in sharing the joy and happiness of this community, let us again pay tribute to that sense of mateship and community which binds the Australian nation together,” he said.

“This day belongs above all else to the community of Beaconsfield. This is their triumph, this is their vindication of what a wonderful community they represent. And I think all Australians should, in a sense, stand back and salute that.”

Mine manager Matthew Gill, who earlier greeted and hugged the two men, said they were tough and inspiring.

“They are incredible people. They are absolutely incredible people,” he said.

Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon, who attended Knight’s funeral, hailed the rescuers as “heroes” of immense “bravery and tenacity”.

“When the chips are down, Tasmanians pitch in and help each other,” Mr Lennon said.

Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said: “We have just witnessed a rolled-gold miracle and a great Australian epic.”

The first sign of the breakthrough Australia had waited two weeks to see came about 9.30pm on Monday, when a small probe used as a directional guide poked through the rock below the trapped miners’ cramped cage.

Only a metre of rock separated them from their rescuers – 40cm of hard rock and a further 60cm of loose fill.

Rescuers, knowing they were on track, then began drilling the final vertical tunnel towards the men after days of horizontal drilling and low-impact blasting.

Mr Shorten said the vertical drilling was considered the most dangerous phase of the rescue.

Shortly after 4am, mine officials announced that they expected Mr Webb and Mr Russell to be freed within hours.

“The fat lady has started to sing,” Mr Shorten said with a grin.

Another rescue worker told of the elation when his colleagues reached the two men.

“I can see your light,” screamed the rescue worker as he broke through the earth separating them from freedom.

Mr Russell and Mr Webb shouted back: “I can see your light, too.”

Rescue co-ordinator and mine occupational health and safety officer Rex Johnson said the men had to be carried on a stretcher through the 1m-wide escape tunnel before greeting the rescue crew with cries of “yee-hah”.

Mr Johnson said it was tempting to rush to get to the miners but all, including Mr Webb and Mr Russell, knew to proceed cautiously.

“It was quite easy towards the end but you’ve just got to be careful. You can’t take any chances,” he said.

Credit for this post goes to the following:
Matthew Denholm

Additional input:
Simon Kearney

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