Trapped miners finally freed

BEACONSFIELD - Trapped Tasmanian miners Brant Webb and Todd Russell have walked from Beaconsfield mine after 14 days trapped underground.

The miners walked from mine buildings shortly before 8am NZT.

Webb and Russell could be seen on television pictures sitting in the back of an ambulance waving, smiling and hugging friends and family members.

The joyful reunion with the mens' families happened above ground in full public view. But their first action was to remove their name tags from the board they have been hooked on for two weeks.

Crowds that had quickly gathered on news of the miners release clapped and cheered as the ambulance drove away from mine buildings. The men were being taken to Launceston Hospital for further medical assesment.

At 9.05am NZT, an hour after they left the mine, the men arrived at the hospital, still with big grins on their faces, and waving to waiting media from their stretchers.

Mine manager Matthew Gill told reporters the miners had expressed a desire to attend the funeral today for colleague Larry Knight. Knight was killed in the rockfall that trapped the miners on Anzac Day.

"I would be surprised if they weren't able to attend".

Mr Gill said: "All the people who have worked on this rescue operation , they have all been fantastic, working long hours in extraordinary conditions. They have done this while riding an emotional rollercoaster."

He described the two miners as "incredible people". He added: "I am amazed at their condition. They're pretty tough."

He said the final stage of the rescue had gone smoothly. "The amount of rock we had to break through was less than we thought. We were a bit further advanced than we thought. For once we had things going in our favour."

Rescuer Rex Johnson described freeing the miners this morning. He said the pair had dropped down a vertical tunnel onto stretchers below. They were then dragged a short distance along a horizontal tunnel to safety.

"They got it pretty easy," Mr Johnson joked.

The miners knew the job would take time. "The guys were very calm, the paramedics done a great job calming the guys leading up to the time."

Asked about their first words after being freed he said: "Just a few yeehaas I think."

"They were really ready to come home. They had their bags packed for quite a while.

"Everyone is elated."

Mr Gill said there were also mixed feelings at the rescue due to the death of miner Larry Knight. "I share everyone's joy and relief that we have been able to get Todd and Brant out safetly."

But he said "My heart goes out to Larry Knight's wife and family".

Reporters at the scene described an extraordinary atmosphere at the scene of what some were calling "the greatest survival story in Australian history".

Webb and Russell were freed from the wire cage that has held them captive shortly before 7am NZT this morning.

The miners were given a medical assesment and found to be in to be in good physical condition before being bought to the surface.

"Both Brant and Todd are out of the tunnel and well," Gill said.

The men had also asked for a shower.

Australian Workers Union national secretary Bill Shorten said the miners and their families could now "go back to normal".

"Whatever normal is they are heading back to it."

Mr Shorten said the rescue team was amazing. "You can't help but conclude that we have the best mines rescue in the world," Mr Shorten said.

"The test of a rescue mission is does it succeed. You 'd have to say this is a ten out of ten success."

Mr Shorten said he believed it would emerge that the trapped miners dug their way towards their rescuers once the probe emerged into their confined space.

He said rescuers were incredulous at the small space the men spent the past two weeks. It was no gymnasium or basketball court he said.

"This was a very small space. Some of the blokes (rescuers) who were down there have come out shaking their heads. This was tiny."

Russell, 34, and Webb, 37, were entombed in a steel cage on April 25 after a tremor collapsed the rock above them in the Beaconsfield goldmine. Larry Knight, 44, was killed in the cave-in.

- HERALD ONLINE STAFF

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