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Rescuers break through to trapped Australia miners

By Staff
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CANBERRA, May 4 (Reuters) Rescuers today reached two Australian miners on Thursday trapped a kilometre underground for nine days, but said it was unlikely the small rescue tunnel could be widened enough to free them before the weekend.

A special tunnelling machine, which grinds through rock and is much safer than blasting or drilling, was used to dig 16 metres through solid rock to reach the miners.

A 20-cm (8-in) diameter pilot hole has been made, but must now be widened to one metre.

The men, trapped after a cave-in in a gold mine in the small town of Beaconsfield on the southern island of Tasmania, were found on Sunday huddled in a small metal cage.

Mine manager Matthew Gill said that work to enlarge the hole was unlikely to start until late today because it would take most of the day to fit the larger blade to the drill.

''We'll survey that hole to make sure we know exactly where it is, because accuracy is critical,'' Gill said, adding that it was ''unlikely'' the men would be freed tomorrow.

Food and fresh water has been delivered to the men through a small 10-cm plastic pipe, along with fresh clothes, a digital camera, magazines and an iPod player.

Gill said that the men had slept through the end of the drilling of the pilot hole, a good sign for rescuers who are concerned the drilling vibration could trigger further rockfalls. A third miner was killed when a small earth tremor dislodged tonnes of rock. Despite their grief, Larry Knight's family have delayed his funeral until Brant Webb and Todd Russell are rescued and can bid farewell to their mate.

Mining is one of the world's most dangerous jobs. Worldwide some 10,000 miners die every year.

China holds the record for the largest number killed in a mining disaster. On April 26, 1942, 1,572 people died in a coal dust explosion at the Honkeiko coal mine.

In Australia, 11 miners have been killed in accidents in the past year. The Minerals Council of Australia has recorded 229 deaths from 1990 to 2000.

REUTERS KD HT1042

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