RESCUE WILL TAKE DAYS
By JOHN FERGUSON
TWO miners caught in the Tasmanian mine collapse will remain trapped underground for days, as rescuers are forced to delicately chip through 12 metres of solid rock to free them.
Todd Russell and Brant Webb received food and water yesterday for the first time in six days, but are wet and cramped in a tiny cage pinned under a rock.
The miners are being fed biscuits, a special nutritional supplement and water, and are under medication almost a week after an earthquake caused a rockfall that killed one of their colleagues as it trapped them nearly a kilometre underground.
Mr Russell, 35, and Mr Webb, 37, survived by drinking groundwater from their mine shaft and are stuck in a dark space of no more than 1.5m 1.5m.
Their conditions were detailed last night by Beaconsfield Gold Mine manager Matthew Gill, who said they may yet be trapped for days. They are at grave risk of being smothered by more rock falls and are helping guide the rescue team on the safest methods of getting to them for the retrieval.
Mr Gill said there had been a clear message from the men trapped beneath the tiny town of Beaconsfield, about 40km northwest of Launceston.
"We asked them what do you need and they said: 'Food, water and to get out'," he said.
"We are still some time off getting them out.
"We must stress the conditions are very difficult and dangerous and people should not underestimate the difficulty in getting them out safely. This work has to proceed very carefully."
The men received their food and medication via a 12-metre long pipe cut into the rock-face. It is made of PVC and the food and water was pushed down it.
Feeding the men yesterday afternoon was a major breakthrough for rescuers who had said they could not be moved until they had been rehydrated and fed.
But the going is still considered extremely tough as the mine owners, the main union and the Tasmanian Government warned against overconfidence.
The deadline for their retrieval from nearly a kilometre below the mine was pushed back by at least 12 hours – and probably more – yesterday.
Rescuers were asked if they could supply at least one of the men with bacon and eggs after they first made contact early on Sunday evening.
The light-hearted request belied the intense danger both men still face.
Australian Workers Union national secretary Bill Shorten warned yesterday that there were immense dangers associated with the operation. "This is going to be long and difficult."
His concerns were shared by Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon who warned that the original 48-hour deadline no longer existed.
Family and friends of the two men – including Mr Russell's son Trent – were yesterday taken into the heart of the mine's business operations.
Mr Russell's father, Noel, said he was elated when he heard his son was still alive.
"I felt as though I wanted to get on my hands and knees and dig," he said.
His wife, Kay, said not knowing whether her son was dead or alive was the problem that caused her the most grief. "It was the waiting and not knowing," she said.
A national rescue effort was under way yesterday to help retrieve the men from their predicament, with tonnes of drilling equipment and winches trucked into the mine compound.
Also sent in was a massive crane, piping and wood, probably to help stabilise the walls during the rescue effort. Rescuers are attempting to drill into the area where tremors dislodged rocks and trapped the two men.
A third man, Larry Knight, 44, died when an earthquake measuring 2.2 on the Richter scale sparked an underground rockfall at the mine.
Fourteen miners escaped unharmed, while Mr Knight was killed and the other two men were trapped in the tiny cage.
Of equal concern to the mine operators is the potential for rescuers to be caught up in any potential rock slides sparked by drilling in the sensitive part of the mine.
Mr Lennon said the trapped miners were providing crucial information on how they could be saved.
"They are providing a lot of intelligence to the rescue teams, which is influencing how they get them out," he said.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Rescue will take days
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