Get us out’ miners say


BEACONSFIELD, Australia – Wedged for nearly a week in a cramped cage a half-mile underground, two gold miners got right to the point when rescuers made radio contact: “Get us out.”

The words brought joy to this town of 3,000 on the southern Australian island state of Tasmania, but officials said it could be two more days before emergency crews are able to rescue the trapped men.

Brant Webb, 37, and Todd Russell, 34, were trapped April 25 by a cave-in that killed another miner. Webb and Russell apparently were saved by a slab of rock that fell onto the cage of their cherry-picker and prevented smaller rocks from hitting them after a small earthquake.

To reach the two miners, rescue workers must tunnel through 40 feet of collapsed rock without triggering another collapse.

Yesterday, rescuers fed the trapped men biscuits, water, a protein drink and vitamin tablets through a tube. The men had been getting by on rancid water that drips through the rocks. Enough oxygen also got through to keep them alive.

Mining is dangerous work. In January, 14 miners died in two accidents at mines in West Virginia. However, in Canada, 72 potash miners walked away from an underground fire and toxic smoke in January after being locked down overnight in airtight chambers with oxygen, food and water.

On Sunday, the Australian rescuers managed to drill a tiny tunnel that reached the miners. After feeding a cameraman’s microphone through the narrow hole, they established communication with the men.

Russell’s first words were short and to the point: “It’s cold and cramped in here. Get us out!”

Those two brief sentences – the first confirmation that the two survived the collapse – brought relief to their families and to the miners working to reach them.

But the joy was tempered by sympathy for the family of Larry Knight, who was crushed in the initial collapse and whose body was retrieved last week.

“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,” Russell’s father, Noel, said in a televised interview. “I was grateful. They were the brave people.”

Michael Kelly, Webb’s father-in-law, described how he learned the miners were alive.

“When a man rushed through the door, covered in mud and crying, we thought that was the bad news,” he said. “He burst into the room and fell down on his knees in front of [Webb’s wife] and sobbed `He’s alive.'”