Former Coffs man used in mine rescue
By ANDREW ROWLINGS
A FORMER Coffs Harbour resident has played a crucial role in the freeing of trapped miners Brant Webb and Todd Russell from the collapsed Beaconsfield mine.
Jeremy Rowlings was one of a select band of experts called on when it was discovered that the trapped men were still alive, and the rescue operation kicked into top gear.
Currently employed by Stawell Gold Mines, Victoria, the former Orara High School student worked in the local timber industry with Coffs Harbour Plywood before moving into mining.
His 22 years' mining experience at Mount Isa in Queensland and then Marble Bar, Kambalda and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia were vital in assessing the underground situation at Beaconsfield and formulating the best approach in the rescue operation.
He and two workmates from Stawell were contacted in the early hours of Monday, May 1 and flown by charter jet to Tasmania.
On arrival at Beaconsfield, they had a frustrating few days as mine management de- bated what methods to use to attempt the rescue.
"On Monday night we sat down and put a plan together, which we presented to management and then waited for them to assess it," Jeremy said.
"The first few days were very frustrating."
Rather than just play the waiting game, the miners started explosives testing in other sections of the mine. Results were recorded and presented to mine management and with each result, confidence in the method grew.
Blasting in the escape tunnel began on Saturday, May 6.
Working in cramped, dark and confined conditions, the rescue crews worked in split shifts; the maximum shift being 12 hours.
"Having put together our own roster, we were flat out the whole time," Jeremy said.
"The time went quickly for us. We had a job to do and concentrated on that."
Jeremy said that throughout the whole ordeal, morale among the rescue crew remained extremely high.
"The right decisions were made and that showed with the miners emerging safely," he said.
"There was never a point where we didn't think we would get them out. We always knew they were coming out."
Jeremy was asleep when Brant Webb and Todd Russell surfaced during the early hours of last Tuesday morning. He had gone to bed about 4am knowing the job was done.
"We went to bed knowing they were coming out. It was a huge relief for us," he said.
The Stawell rescue crew was called upon due to its innovative use of PCF explosives over the past five years. This product is designed for use in the civil construction industry and rarely used in mines.
Jeremy said the product was so efficient and the operation so specific, that they were blasting rock within 300mm of the trapped miners.