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Trapped miners keep up their spirits

Published May 5, 2006

BEACONSFIELD, Australia - They ate yogurt for breakfast Thursday and requested chicken for dinner. They slept five hours in the cold, the most yet. To keep busy, they clean each other's scratches - all filmed round the clock.

Trapped nearly 3,000 feet underground, two Australian gold miners have been stuck for more than a week after an earthquake pinned the tiny steel cage they were working in under tons of hard rock.

By Thursday night, rescuers who have been sending them supplies including an air mattress and iPods through a narrow tube were ready to start drilling a tunnel big enough to get them out. They said Brant Webb, 37, and Todd Russell, 34, would probably be free by the weekend.

"All I can say is, they are incredible guys, they've got good spirits. We have a joke about some things, but we know the reality and they know the reality and they are happy to wait for the progress," said Matthew Eastham, a paramedic at the scene.

The men have been entombed in the century-old Beaconsfield Gold Mine in Tasmania state since April 25. Fellow miner Larry Knight, 44, was killed in the quake.

Mine manager Matthew Gill said teams had finished boring a narrow pilot hole to the men through 52 feet of hard rock and would use the hole to guide the drilling of a 3-foot-wide escape tunnel.

He said drilling would probably start Thursday night and it was "unlikely" that the men would be freed before the weekend because of the need for careful progress.

All week the rescuers have been coming closer to the men. They managed to reach them Monday with a narrow pipe and pumped in water and food.

On Wednesday - Day 8 of the ordeal - the miners received iPods and egg sandwiches, their first solid food. There was yogurt Thursday morning, and the men asked for a chicken sandwich dinner, Gill said.

Rescuers also passed a video camera to the men so medical staff could monitor them, the Australian Associated Press news agency reported.

The men were physically "quite okay," and paramedics had been giving them tasks such as cleaning scratches on each other to keep them occupied.

Once brought out through the rescue tunnel, the men will be driven to the elevator for their ascent to the surface. Fellow miners speculated the men would want to walk out of the mine, rather than be carried on stretchers.

"You can imagine that would be a huge desire of theirs," Gill told the AAP. "That's what I'd want to do."

[Last modified May 5, 2006, 08:45:50]

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