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Last Updated: Monday, 1 May 2006, 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK
Race on to rescue Tasmania miners
Noel and Kaye Russell, parents of trapped miner Todd Russell, after hearing that their son is alive
Relatives had feared the worst after the rock fall on Tuesday
Rescuers have begun drilling towards two Australian gold miners trapped alive for more than five days 3,000ft (1km) underground in Tasmania.

Reports say 12m of rock still separates them from safety, and it could take another 48 hours to reach them.

Contact was made with Todd Russell, 35, and Brant Webb, 36, on Sunday, after rescuers heard them talking.

Hopes that the two were still alive had begun to fade after the body of a colleague was found on Thursday.

A small earthquake triggered a rock fall that trapped the men underground at the mine in the town of Beaconsfield.

Rescuers had been digging slowly towards the area but were beginning to lose hope of finding the men alive.

To think that they're still down there and still alive is an absolute miracle
Mayor Barry Easther

But late on Sunday, they heard the men talking and later managed to communicate with them.

"It's cold and cramped in here. Get us out," one of them told rescuers.

Local mayor Barry Easther said it was "just unbelievable news".

"There's still a lot of technical work to do to get them out. But to think that they're still down there and still alive is an absolute miracle," he said.

'Painstaking work'

Efforts were now focusing on getting food and water to the two men.

Map of Beaconsfield, Tasmania

Rescuers have drilled a small tunnel through which they hope to give them food.

When contact was made, the men had just one request - bacon and eggs.

But Professor Stewart Truswell of Sydney University's human nutrition unit told AP news agency that water was more important than food.

"It's quite likely if they have bacon and eggs they would be sick," he added. "I think they should start with something fairly bland like bread or cornflakes, but I'm not sure they are going to take my advice."

Prime Minister John Howard praised the resilience of the local community.

"All Australians will share the joy of the families of the two miners found alive at Beaconsfield," he said.

He offered his sympathy over the death of the third miner, Larry Knight. "Our thoughts are very much with his family," he said.

Earlier, mine manager Matthew Gill described the rescue effort, which repeatedly involves blasting rock to make a tunnel, as "slow and painstaking work".

The BBC's Phil Mercer says a delicate and dangerous rescue mission still lies ahead. The miners are surrounded by solid rock and they may have to wait another forty eight hours to be brought to the surface.




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See the mine where the two gold miners are trapped




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