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May 2, 2006

Mining Australian history for another miracle

The events unfolding at Beaconsfield have a parallel with a not dissimilar incident which took place on the Coolgardie goldfield a century ago. On the afternoon of Tuesday, March 19

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The events
unfolding at Beaconsfield
have a parallel with a not dissimilar incident which took place on the
Coolgardie goldfield a century ago. On the
afternoon of Tuesday, March 19, 1907 a sudden violent summer storm broke over
the Bonnievale area, seven miles north of Coolgardie. In a matter of minutes a
heavy flow of water gushed into the shaft and workings of the Bonnievale
goldmine in which 20 men were working.

The
powerful flood of water drove mud, stones and other debris into the underground
workings. The miners scrambled to the surface in the face of the treacherous
conditions which had in moments descended upon them. A muster of the men
revealed that one man was missing: Modesto Varischetti.

Varischetti
had been working in a rise chamber at the No. 10 level. It quickly became
apparent that the level of the water was a full fifty feet above the No. 10
level. Of course, it was not known whether Varischetti was in the rise or on the
level however in any event there was no immediate way of discovering whether he
was alive or dead.

To lower
the water level below the No. 10 level required the removal of about a million
gallons of water. No pumps were available and the mine bailing tanks would
probably take ten days to lower the water.

The tanks
were set going and in 12 hours reduced the level of water by only nine inches. An
appeal went out for deep sea divers. On
the third day a special train was dispatched from Perth. On board were two divers, Hearne and
Curtis and their attendants, Stewart and Johnston. The train arrived in
Coolgardie, 555 kilometres from Perth
in 13 hours (a record which stood for nearly fifty years and was broken only with
the introduction of diesel engines.)

A further
diver, Frank Hughes, a Welsh miner working at Kalgoorlie volunteered and joined the team.
Hearne and Hughes undertook the descents with Curtis managing the perilous dives from the surface. Eventually
in a remarkable feat of courage and skill Hughes and Hearne were able in utter
darkness to descend into the flooded shaft and find their way along the No. 10
level and into the chamber which contained Varischetti who had managed to
survive through an air lock created in the higher part of the chamber.

Varischetti
had during all this time been entombed without warmth, light or food. When the
divers finally managed to get to him they were able to provide him with warm
clothes and food.

On
Thursday, March 28 (the ninth day) the water had been lowered to the No. 10
level so as to allow a man to wade along the level with head and shoulders out
of the water. At 2pm, dozens of candles were placed along the level and Hughes
went to Varischetti to prepare him for rescue. In his weakened state
Varischetti partially collapsed and had to be carried out by Hughes.

To guard
against shock, strict orders were given against noise or demonstration.
Varischetti was brought to the surface at 6pm on the ninth day. He subsequently
returned to his employment in the industry. All this
without a day off for training in occupational health, safety and rescue
techniques.

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