Miners counselled as rescue nears end

Paramedics and psychologists were on Thursday counselling two Australian miners buried alive for nine days as rescuers inched towards them, drilling through tonnes of rock.

With the method and speed of the rescue attempt limited by fears of a new rockfall, the medics were available 24 hours a day at one end of a narrow pipe which is the only link the men have to the outside world.

“We are treating this as a marathon with them, that’s how we’ve explained it to them,” said paramedic Matthew Eastman at the Beaconsfield Gold Mine in Australia’s island state of Tasmania.

“And as with any marathon, there are peaks and troughs. We have some high times, we do have some low points but paramedics are at the pipe talking to them 24 hours a day if need be.”

The two miners—Todd Russell (35) and Brant Webb (37)—are both married with children but conversations are deliberately steered away from their families and their impending reunion on the advice of psychologists.

“We have general conversations with them,” said Eastman.

“We’ve spoken about the football. We’ve spoken about other sports.
We’re just trying to talk to them about things they can relate to and things that will keep them on an even keel.”

The two miners are nearly a kilometre underground, in a tiny steel cage which saved their lives when an earth tremor on April 25 collapsed the tunnel they were working in, killing a colleague.

For the first five days it was thought most likely they too had been killed, but on Sunday a remote camera found them alive.

Rescue teams now drilling through 16m of rock do not expect to reach the men at least until Friday.

“Todd and Brant remain in good health and in good spirits,” mine manager Matthew Gill told reporters, without giving an estimate of when they would be freed.

They are receiving food and drink through the same 90mm wide PVC pipe that links them to the paramedics and got their first solid food on Wednesday night—egg sandwiches.

The paramedics have also given them a light exercise programme including knee raises and calf muscle stretches to ward off problems such as deep-vein thrombosis, caused by remaining in a cramped position for a long time.

When not chatting to the paramedics, sleeping or exercising, the men can listen to music on iPods passed through the pipe—country rock for Russell and grunge for Webb. - AFP

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