- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

BEACONSFIELD, Australia — Two Australian gold miners trapped for two weeks in a tiny steel cage 3,000 feet underground were rescued early today by teams drilling around the clock by hand through hard rock.

Brant Webb, 37, and Todd Russell, 34, were buried after a small earthquake April 25 trapped them under tons of rock in the Beaconsfield Gold Mine. The safety cage in which they were working kept them from being crushed. Fellow miner Larry Knight, 44, was killed.

Mine manager Matthew Gill said the men were safe and in good health after their 300-hour ordeal, underground in a cage too short to allow them to stand up. Doctors were inspecting the men in an area still below ground before bringing them out of the mine.

For five days, Mr. Webb and Mr. Russell survived on a single cereal bar and water they licked from rocks, until rescue crews with thermal heat sensors detected them.

Teams of specialist miners bored through more than 45 feet of rock over the past week with a giant drilling machine to reach the men. Cutting the final sections of the escape tunnel was slow and difficult, as the men used hand tools to avoid causing a cave-in.

The rescue ended a drama that riveted the nation, with TV crews camped in the mine parking lot, and residents of the close-knit community waiting anxiously at the mine gates to welcome the two men, now considered heroes.

Television networks cut live to the news that the men were saved. A firetruck drove through Beaconsfield, a town in the southern state of Tasmania, its siren wailing to alert the local residents to the news.

A church bell not used since the end of World War II rang out in celebration.

Seventeen men were working the night shift when the magnitude 2.1 quake sent tremors through the century-old mine. Fourteen men made it safely to the surface, vut Mr. Webb, Mr. Russell and Mr. Knight had been working deep in the belly of the mine repairing a tunnel.

After discovering Mr. Webb and Mr. Russell alive April 30, 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.

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

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