The bell of Beaconsfield's Uniting Church sounds only for significant events, such as the end of World War Two. Yet at 5.59am today the bell was rung with such gusto that the clanger fell off. After surviving underground in a cramped cage for 14 days, during five of which they were presumed dead, Tasmanian miners Brant Webb and Todd Russell had walked alive from the gold-mine.
"This is history, this is the Great Escape, this is the biggest prison break on the planet," said their union secretary, Bill Shorten, as the two men, looking astonishingly healthy, embraced their families.
The unprecedented rescue is likely to pass into Australian legend. The two men's spirits proved as tough as the granite through which their rescuers blasted inch by inch and pulled out rock by rock. Following a week of frustrating progress, it had been decided to use explosives.
Edge of the World
The emergence of two hungry gold miners has been hailed as the greatest escape.
Todd Russell: 34, married with three children
Wanted paramedics to stop off at fast-food joint after rescue
Asked for newspaper to scan for other jobs and overtime pay
Brant Webb: 37, married to childhood sweetheart
Also has three children, including teenage twins
Both men determined to walk out of the rescue tunnel
Todd Russell: 34, married with three childrenWanted paramedics to stop off at fast-food joint after rescueAsked for newspaper to scan for other jobs and overtime pay Brant Webb: 37, married to childhood sweetheartAlso has three children, including teenage twinsBoth men determined to walk out of the rescue tunnel
("Girl, is that the best you can do?" joked Russell after one cautious detonation). A hydraulic rock-splitter with specialised grease was used to drill through the final 40cm. Contact made, their request for "gravy and chips" was denied for fear they wouldn't fit through the hole.
The euphoria, which saw the whole town celebrating in pubs before breakfast, has been tempered by the deaths of veteran 60 Minutes reporter, Richard Carleton, who suffered a heart attack outside the Beaconsfield mine moments after posing a particularly tough question. ("What a way to go!" remarked Joan Rivers, currently on tour in Australia); and miner Larry Knight, crushed in the initial rockfall.
Knight's funeral will be held this afternoon, and nothing will prevent Todd Russell from attending.FIRST POSTED MAY 9, 2006
The pair moved their safety tags to '"safe"
as they came out.
The miners waved from ambulances to
well-wishers as they received treatment.