Beaconsfield miners return to mine site

On the fifth anniversary of their rescue, survivors of the Beaconsfield gold mine disaster yesterday returned to the place where they spent two weeks trapped underground.

Todd Russell and Brant Webb celebrated what they call their “second chance at life” a few hundred metres from the mine shaft
The men said Anzac Day gad been “pretty hard”, as it brought back memories of their co-worker larry Knight who died in the tragedy.

"It would certainly be a different story if the three of us were here," Russell said.

Yesterday West Tamar Mayor Barry Easther and Tasmanian Community Chairman Lynn Mason opened a 3D mine model to demonstrate the complications of modern underground mining which is introduced by Russell’s hologram.

Webb now works at a local hardware store and said while he missed the “camaraderie” of mining with mates, he did not miss the job itself.

Russell works for a mining services business but said he has not been down the mine since the rescue.

He took tour groups through the heritage centre and shared details of his two-week imprisonment.

"They are getting it first-hand from me and they are getting the right story," he said, adding that it was important for the public to get the right story.

It was Anzac Day 2006 when a small earthquake triggered a rockfall at the 100 year old mine in Tasmania, trapping the three miners a kilometre underground.

Larry Knight’s body was found two days later, and decreased hopes that the other men had survived.

Five days later, as hopes faded, rescuers heard the voices of Russell and Webb, causing Russell’s mother to scream through the streets of Beaconsfield "They’re alive ! They’re alive! And they’re gunna get them out!!!"

The rescue was made difficult by the position the men were in, trapped inside the cage of the telehandler, surrounded by tonnes of loose rocks balancing on the roof of the baskets above their heads.

The men, buried by the rubble, were both injured in the tragedy.

After regaining consciousness following the rockfall, Webb used a pocket knife to cut the boots and clothing away and free Russell’s legs from the rocks.

Through it all, the men tried to maintain their sense of humour and hope.

They sang the only song they knew, The Gambler, collected seeping groundwater in their helmets and shared a single muesli bar.

They couldn’t move inside the cage and more explosions caused more rock to fall in the nearby tunnel.

When rescuers finally reached the miners, they told them “we’re in a two-star hotel and we’re the two stars,” and asked for a paper so they could “look for another job.”

They did fear they would not be rescued and wrote letter to their families, but luckily, amid media fanfare and jubilation, then men were winched to safety on 30 April 2006.

The men managed to walk out of the mine, hang up their tags and hug their families, before being taken to hospital in an ambulance on the day of Larry Knight’s funeral.

Russell was released from hospital in a few hours to attend his mate’s funeral.

Image: The ABC

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