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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 October, 2003, 13:35 GMT
Mystery and joy as miners emerge
By Dominic Bailey
BBC News Online

The emergence of soot-blackened faces from the Zapadnaya coal mine in southern Russia ended an agonising six-day wait for relatives and friends of 11 trapped miners.

Relatives waited at the mine through wind, rain and snow
It also ended an as yet untold ordeal for the miners themselves, having been trapped a kilometre underground with no food and no way of communicating for the outside world.

But the wave of relief and jubilation that swept through the waiting crowd, who cried out the miners' names as emerging faces were recognised, was tinged with the knowledge that one of their colleagues was dead and another missing.

The survivors "never despaired - they could hear the sound of the digging," said deputy regional governor Alexander Bedrik said.

The digging they could hear was the sound of rescuers desperately hewing out their "tunnel of hope" - an evacuation tunnel from a neighbouring mine.

I knew he would be OK - I just had this gut feeling
Miner's friend
"I knew he would be OK - I just had this gut feeling," said one miner waiting at the pithead to greet a rescued colleague.

For other families waiting in the snow and wintry rain on the outside - perhaps with the memory of other disasters in Russia's accident-prone mine industry or even the Kursk submarine tragedy in which 118 trapped sailors died - a positive outcome was less anticipated.

It's a mystery. They are actually in better shape than the ones we rescued days ago
Viktor Mogilevsky
Rescue team doctor
When the mine flooded last Thursday, 15 of the 46 men in the mine were saved in the initial rescue.

The names of those trapped were posted at the mine headquarters - the start of the anxious wait for families who rushed to the mine after news of the disaster reached the town.

Rescuers made no progress for the next 24 hours but another 16 were rescued on Saturday with stories of rising ice-cold flood water that "knocked you off your feet".

Underground rescues
2002: USA: Nine coal miners rescued after three days
2001: France: Eight tourists rescued from flooded cave after four days
2000: South Africa: Nine gold miners rescued after four days
The condition of the miners, with some suffering from oxygen deficiency and hypothermia, would have also added to the waiting relatives' worst fears.

But officials have said that the last group to be rescued were in a better condition than those rescued at the weekend.

"It's a mystery. They are actually in better shape than the ones we rescued days ago," said rescue team doctor Viktor Mogilevsky.

When you are in those conditions underground you have to semi-hibernate, switch off and huddle together
Pete Allwright
British Cave Rescue Council
Time is, of course, the key to all rescues, and rescuers knew they were in a race against the clock to reach the men before air supplies ran out or the rising waters swamped the men.

Pete Allwright, from the British Cave Rescue Council which deals with underground rescues, told BBC News Online that once the miners had survived the initial flood it was important to find somewhere safe and comforable, then conserve energy.

Huddled together

"When you are in those conditions underground you have to semi-hibernate, switch off and huddle together," he said. "The problems after that are food, water, keeping warm and losing air.

Rescued miner gets into ambulance
Miners rescued on Saturday were said to be in a worse condition
Perhaps that explains why the rescuers found the group lying all together when they broke through on Wednesday.

One rescuer, Alexander Smetalin, said: "The guys looked fine for people who have been trapped in a mine for six days."

He said that the miners had climbed up an incline in the shaft in the Zapadnaya mine that kept them above the level of the icy water.

The helplessness of waiting for rescue appears to have been too much for one of the miners. The missing man apparently left the others in the hope of finding a way out.

The search for him, and his family's anguish, continues.

Blast hits second Russian mine
29 Oct 03  |  Europe
In pictures: Russian mine drama
27 Oct 03  |  Photo Gallery
Rescuers reach flooded mine
28 Oct 03  |  Europe

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