Brant Webb's stirring testimony

MINE disaster survivor Brant Webb closed AIMEX Safety Day by setting the record straight on the drama that unfolded more than 900m down Tasmania's collapsed Beaconsfield shaft in 2006.

Staff Reporter
Brant Webb's stirring testimony

Using a combination of plainspoken humour and powerful storytelling about surviving in a tomblike environment, Webb told visitors at Asia-Pacific’s International Mining Exhibition that his 13 days trapped underground were quite different to media reports and television dramatisations.

The emotion-evoking keynote speech marked the close of safety-themed events on the exhibition’s third day at the Sydney Showgrounds.

Webb’s ruminations on the cave-in that trapped him and fellow miner Todd Russell, while killing colleague Larry Knight, were a potent follow-up to a preceding panel discussion which focused on improving safety through better mine site communication.

Webb said he had not been informed about a decision to stop stress-relieving blasting on ANZAC Day.

He said that if information on the blast stoppage had been communicated, he would not have entered the strained underground environment ¬– which eventually produced a seismic event and rock-fall.

“Communication was the biggest problem we had,” he said.

“No one communicated that we hadn’t fired. No one told us anything.

“We lost a man at Beaconsfield because of a lack of communication. It wasn’t a lack of safety. It wasn’t a lack of anything, but communication.”

Audience members were hushed as Webb detailed the nightmarish scenario of regaining consciousness while buried under broken rock almost a kilometre underground in utter darkness.

“At 9.35pm we have a seismic event, we’re covered in rock, we’re in an open basket,” he said.

“My first recollection is Todd screaming out for Larry. That’s probably the bit that haunts me.

If you have a really traumatic event in your life, there’s always one little piece that will set you off.

“I’d lapse back in, unconscious, go back out, Todd’s still yelling.”

Webb described lighting his cigarette lighter to reveal the broken rock all around him and the day-long process of wearing through a glove to scrape himself out of the rubble.

Anxiety mounted, with episodes of flooding, extreme mood swings, successive showers of rock and the nerve-wracking task of displacing small individual rocks, which together formed a precariously stable vault around the tightly squeezed men.

One helmet was used for collecting groundwater to stay alive, while another was used for collecting urine in a desperate attempt to avoid infection. Five days of chattering teeth led to irreversible dental damage.

After some five days, contact with rescuers led to more close calls – with a drill meant to create a food hole nearly striking both Webb and Russell.

In emerging from the mine and in coping with the trials of reclaiming a normal life, depression continued to take its toll. Webb spoke solemnly on the lingering scars of one of Tasmanian mining’s darkest chapters.

“The knock-on effect of Beaconsfield was pretty immense,” he said.

“Twelve months after the accident, we had 19 divorces. We had 54 people uproot and leave the area. We had one suicide.

“And now we’ve got a closed mine.”


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