The “gut-churning” emotional
rollercoaster of the Beaconsfield mining disaster began for Peter
“Hatsy” Hatswell at 4am the morning after Anzac Day, when a phone call
informed him that his good friend of ten years, Todd Russell, and
colleagues Brant Webb and Larry King were trapped 1km underground in
the Beaconsfield Gold Mine. (1)

The odds of their
survival weren’t good, but there was one person who never gave up hope.
Brant Webb’s wife, Rachel, knew that her husband had survived the rock
fall because he told her, telepathically, when she was on her way to
the mine the day after the accident. Brant “spoke to her”, addressing
her by her pet name “cutie” and letting her know he was ok. Even after
two days of no news, Rachel remained convinced that her husband was
alive – he’d told her so in her dreams. He even instructed her to go to
the mine to collect his car and his personal belongings from his
locker, so there was nothing left of him at the site. (2)

It wasn’t until day four that Rachel’s beliefs were confirmed – the two men were heard by rescuers, singing Kenny Rogers songs! (3)
Mine shift boss Brett Cresswell dug through the debris in the tunnel
and shouted for the men to turn on their headlamps. He saw a thin beam
of light, but he couldn’t get to them. It was solid rock. The men,
trapped in a crushed steel cage no bigger than the space under an
average dining table, were distraught, cold and wet. Cresswell, along
with the miners’ shift boss Gavin Cheeseman and foreman Steven
Saltmarsh, then defied danger and strict orders to get food, water and
blankets to the men. (4)

Once rescuers devised a
communications system through a tube, the men kept their spirits up by
joking with medical staff, including a doctor called Richard, who they
nicknamed “Dr Dick” and ribbed mercilessly. They also made up nicknames
for all of nightshift paramedics, who sent their ID cards down the
communication pipe so they could put a face to the name. (5)

One paramedic with a pointy head was called “Champion” because he looked like a spark plug. (6)

Dean
Mackrell, a fellow miner, also helped keep up the pair’s morale, using
the dark humour characteristic of the tough group known locally as
“Beacy Boys.” After hearing Webb singing at one point, Mackrell pressed
his mouth against the communication pipe and said in a low voice: “This
is Big Brother. You are singing without a microphone. That is a $5,000
fine.” Webb and Russell roared with laughter. (7)

Meanwhile,
the men told rescuers of their ordeal. It seems that before they could
even contemplate the fact that they were trapped 1km underground, there
was the small matter of saving Russell, left vomiting and choking from
the weight of rocks that had fallen on him in the cage. (8)
Webb had spent hours digging Russell free from the rock and rubble that
pinned down his left leg after the rockfall. (9)

Russell did his best to help with the effort, moving the rocks with
his one free hand. Once they were free to move inside the tiny cavity in which they were
trapped, they discovered an opening to the main shaft which was blocked off
with wire mesh. They had an escape plan all mapped out, all they needed were bolt cutters.

But the plan went awry when tonnes of rock collapsed over the entrance,
sealing off the escape route. (10)

Meanwhile,
Hatsy, one of the lead coordinators of the complicated rescue, was
enduring the toughest job of his life. His close bond with Todd –
forged ten years earlier when he trained him in emergency mine rescue –
proved to be both a good and bad thing. Bad because he was constantly
in fear that there could be another collapse, good because it meant
Russell trusted him and he was able to get the two men working and
doing jobs for him. (11)

Above ground, Todd’s mother Kaye
busied herself for the two long weeks by cooking for union officials
and rescuers, but all along it was only Todd she wanted to see. (12)


As the rescue neared its completion, Webb and Russell began to
talk about their lives outside the mine and the huge amounts of
interest and money their story would attract. They made a pact 925m
underground that they would only do media interviews together.When rescuers asked them to take footage and pictures of their
surroundings and each other, they demanded copyright on the pictures,
which they eventually got. (13)

After
nearly two weeks, rescuer Glenn Burns peered through the narrow opening
he had chiselled through the rock separating the miners from freedom.
Staring back were Todd Russell and Brant Webb, their dirt-caked,
bearded faces illuminated by the beam of his miner’s lamp. The trapped
men made eye contact with wiry hard rock miner known to his friends as
“The Fox”, who then quickly pushed through his calloused fist and shook
the men by the hand. The two-week Herculean effort to rescue the two
miners was drawing to a close. (14)

SOURCES:

1. Peter “Hatsy” Hatswell, mine rescuer, The Sunday Tasmanian, 14 May
2. Michael Kelly, Brant Webb’s father-in-law, New Idea, 20 May Edition
3. Hatsy
4. Brett Cresswell, mine shift boss and rescuer, The Age, 14 May
5. Karen Pendry & Jude Barnes (aka Pink Panther and Smiley), Tasmanian Ambulance Service, Woman’s Day
6. Daily Telegraph, 11 May
7. Dean Mackrell, The Australian, 10 May, via News 8, San Diego
8. Woman’s Day, 22 May
9. Mackrell
10. Brant Webb, Daily Telegraph, 11 May
11. Hatsy
12. Kaye Russell, Todd’s mum, Woman’s Day
13. Daily Tele
14. Glenn Burns, The Australian, 10 May, via News 8, San Diego

Peter Fray

A lot can happen in 3 months.

3 months is a long time in 2020. Join us to make sense of it all.

Get you first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12. Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

12 weeks for $12