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Chile rescue echoes Australian 'Great Escape': miners

The massive effort to free 33 Chilean miners echoes Australia's "Great Escape" of 2006, when two gold miners were rescued after a fortnight underground, the survivors said on Tuesday.

world Updated: Oct 13, 2010 08:15 IST

The massive effort to free 33 Chilean miners echoes Australia's "Great Escape" of 2006, when two gold miners were rescued after a fortnight underground, the survivors said on Wednesday.

Brant Webb and Todd Russell, the men at the centre of one of Australia's foremost survival stories, said tension among the Chilean miners would be extreme in the final stages of their ordeal.

"It's going to be really hard for the individuals as they see their mates extracted from where they are, because they've been together for such a long time," Russell told Australia's Nine Network TV.

"Two months is a hell of a long time so they're just going to find it hard."

Webb and Russell emerged blinking in front of the world's media on May 9, 2006, after 14 days trapped nearly one kilometre (more than half-a-mile) below ground at Tasmania's Beaconsfield mine following a small earthquake.

They survived by drinking groundwater before rescuers managed to pass them supplies through a plastic tube, and finally cleared a passage wide enough to free them.

"There's 33 guys trapped underground and over a 20-minute journey they're going to take one guy at a time," Russell said of the Chilean miners.

"As the group gets less and less and less the excitement for the next guy is going to raise to a really big high, knowing that he's going to be the next one to go.

"And then you've got the other remaining guys who've got to wait 20 minutes to go and go and go until such time as all 33 have been brought back to the surface.

"It's going to be really hard for the individuals as they see their mates extracted from there."

Barry Easter, who oversaw the operation as the region's mayor, remembered that workers were on a "knife-edge" as the Tasmanian rescue reached its climax.

"It's a time where everyone gets anxious and quite uptight," Easter told public broadcaster ABC.

"You're at the stage where you just don't want anything to go wrong," he said. "The people who are doing the actual work in Chile, they must be working on a knife-edge."

The Australian miners famously appeared arms aloft after their rescue, triggering nationwide rejoicing, with Russell celebrating his freedom in a nearby pub.

"Overall it has been a wonderful demonstration of Australian mateship and perseverance," said then prime minister John Howard.

"To those two men I just want to say to them, 'All of us -- 20 million of us -- are delighted to still have them with us'."