After medical tests conducted underground, Brant Webb, 37, and Todd Russell, 34, strode smiling, arms aloft, from the mine's main lift shaft in Beaconsfield, Tasmania, on Tuesday.

They were greeted by cheers from hundreds of well-wishers who had gathered at the mine gate.

They hugged family and friends before getting into two ambulances.

Before going, they removed their identity tags from the wall outside the elevator, a standard safety measure carried out by miners when they finish a shift.

 

Matthew Gill, the mine manager, said: "I am amazed at their condition."

National celebration

 

A fire engine drove with its siren wailing through Beaconsfield and a church bell that had not been used since the second world war rang out in celebration.

Mine officials said rescuers had worked round-the-clock to reach them through a vertical tunnel, drilling by hand through hard rock.

Webb and Russell were buried after a small earthquake on April 25 trapped the safety cage they were working in under tonnes of rock in the Beaconsfield gold mine.

Fellow miner Larry Knight, 44, was killed and Webb and and Russell's rescue came just hours before his family planned to hold his funeral.

Digging a 16m horizontal rescue tunnel towards Webb and Russell was painstakingly slow as miners had to grind through rock five times harder than concrete.

Food and fresh water had been delivered to the men through a small plastic pipe along with clothes, a digital camera and two iPod players.

Good spirits

Before beginning the final vertical dig, rescuers broke through to the miners with probes late on Monday, ensuring they were digging in the right position.

Over the past few days, Webb and Russell spread grout beneath their wire cage to stabilise the ground and minimise the chances of a rock fall when they were finally reached.

Throughout the rescue, the good spirits of the miners, both married with three children, amazed those struggling to reach them.

One asked for a newspaper so he could start scanning the classifieds for another job. The other said that once freed, he wanted the ambulance to stop at McDonald's on the way to the hospital.