Mayor: Australian miners believed alive

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BEACONSFIELD, Australia (AP) – A tiny, Australian gold mining community erupted in joy Sunday after the mayor said he was told that two miners trapped nearly 3,000 feet underground for almost a week were found and are believed to be alive. The two were expected to be rescued Monday.

Beaconsfield Mayor Barry Easther said he was told rescuers had spoken to the miners, although it was not immediately clear how they communicated.

“It’s just unbelievable news,” he said. “I believe they’ve heard voices and exchanged conversation. They say miracles happen. I didn’t think there was going to be one at Beaconsfield.”

Beaconsfield Gold Mine manager Matthew Gill said the two miners are believed to have survived in the area where they were trapped Tuesday, when a small earthquake triggered a rock slide that sealed the mine and killed one of their co-workers.

He identified the two as Todd Russell, 35, and Brant Webb, 36. The other miner’s body was found Thursday.

Amid jubilant scenes on the streets of Beaconsfield, Webb’s son, Zach, said he hoped to hug his father Monday. “It’s absolutely awesome. We’ve been jumping and screaming, kissing everyone, hugging and yelling,” he said.

Brant Webb’s mother-in-law, Julie Kelly, said she heard that the two miners were saved because they were inside a protective cage fitted to a cherry-picker in the mine.

“After we were told he didn’t really have much chance at all, I was despairing. We are really going to be celebrating this when my dad gets out. They said they’ll be working all night, so fingers crossed, hopefully we will see them tomorrow.”

For days, rescuers have been digging a 120-foot tunnel toward the area where the missing men were last seen, but hopes the two men had survived their underground ordeal were fading.

Gill said early Sunday that workers already had removed 780 tons of rock from the new tunnel. “It’s slow and painstaking work,” he said.

Beaconsfield, a town of about 3,000, is located in the southern Australian island state of Tasmania.

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