A successful outcome to the rescue operations at Beaconsfield is still far from certain. The final metre of tunneling will be the most dangerous for the trapped miners, says a former employee of a hard-rock mine with experience in dealing with rock falls.

“The rescuers are drilling from a parallel tunnel through solid rock – that’s time consuming but reasonably safe,” he said today. “The problem may come once you break through into the rubble around the cage housing the miners. You can’t just start moving rubble as that could bring the whole lot down. What I believe will need to be done is to systematically cut through the loose rock, shoring up the whole way, and that will take some time.”

Speaking to the assembled media yesterday, mine manager Matthew Gill said rescuers were planning to tunnel beneath the cage and into the adjacent cavity. “The concrete reinforcing has now set and we hope to commence drilling shortly.” Mr Gill said a speed of around one metre per hour was a reasonable expectation.

Crikey’s source said that getting through the short distance of broken rock between the tunnel and the miners won’t be insurmountable, but another seismic event could spell disaster for the two survivors. “The rescue teams are probably working within a designated safe area, but another tremor could end it all as they are still inside the timeframe for a mining induced seismic event.”

He said he didn’t want to be pessimistic, but felt that people should realise that the miners were still in great peril. He also has a theory as to why one miner’s body was found under the rubble: “Larry Knight would have been in the cab operating the boom on a machine similar to a cherry-picker, with the other two in the cage removing rock on the end of the boom. The whole shaft would have been well lit in order to see any problem rock. The roof would have given way and he probably saw his two mates go under and was trying to flee to a safe area.”

“That would explain why initial rescue efforts with a remotely-operated bogger found Mr Knight. They probably would have expected to find him in the cherry-picker’s cabin.”

Peter Fray

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