Tuesday May 9 09:24 AEST
After two weeks entombed in a cramped cage almost a kilometre below the ground, miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb stood tall and punched the air as they walked from the Beaconsfield gold mine.
Wearing their fluoro jackets and lit miner's helmets, the pair, led by Mr Russell, emerged from a shaft lift, raised their arms, clocked off and walked into the arms of waiting relatives to rapturous cheers.
The miners handed out printed business cards while hugging their families and colleagues soon after reaching the surface, a co-worker who helped in the rescue told AAP.
"The Great Escape", the cards read.
"To all who have helped and supported us and our families, we cannot wait to shake your hand and shout you a Sustagen.
"Thanks is not enough."
The card is signed Brant and Todd.
Fire sirens wailed around the tiny northern Tasmanian town, alerting residents that the men were safe, as hundreds gathered outside the mine, where fellow miner Larry Knight, 44, died in a rock fall on April 25.
A rescue worker told of the elation when his colleagues reached the two men.
"I can see your light," screamed the rescue worker as he broke through the earth separating them from freedom.
Mr Russell and Mr Webb shouted back: "I can see your light too".
Rescue coordinator Rex Johnson, another who saw the miners emerge, was ecstatic.
"It's a great day. Good to get the boys out," he said.
Mr Johnson said the last part of the rescue was hard because the men were so close and everyone just wanted to rush in and get them out.
But he said the rescue team, and Mr Webb and Mr Russell, all knew they had to stop, take their time and do everything properly.
"It was quite easy towards the end but you've just got to be careful. You can't take any chances," he said.
"The miners that did the work should be congratulated. They did an unbelievable job."
There had been no time to celebrate, Mr Johnson said.
"We had a job to do, get them out, so I'll have a bit of time to myself later on.
"I've got Larry Knight's funeral to go to this afternoon, and I think all the guys are going to hold their emotions until then," Mr Johnson said.
He said he expected Mr Webb and Mr Russell would attend Mr Knight's funeral in Launceston today.
"I think they will be doing everything they possibly can to get there. They are in good spirits so, yeah, the boys are going really well."
Mr Russell's brother-in-law Allan Bennett was at the top of the mine to greet his relative and friend.
"It's what dreams are made of, mate," he later said.
"I said 'a miracle' to start with, that's all I could think of, and 'it's what dreams are made of'."
Mr Bennett said he would attend 44-year-old Mr Knight's funeral.
"Don't forget Larry and the other 14 men (who escaped the April 25 rockfall). They're all one, that's how it works," a crying Mr Bennett said.
Mine manager Matthew Gill praised rescuers, and said he was amazed at the health and physical condition of the miners.
"They are incredible people. They are absolutely incredible people," he said.
"In fact, we were a bit worried with the amount they were eating we would have to make the hole a bit bigger.
"I am amazed at their condition. They are pretty tough."
Prime Minister John Howard said he had phoned West Tamar Mayor Barry Easther to congratulate everyone involved in the rescue operation.
"I just want to say how relieved and elated the whole country is and what a huge tribute this is, the way everybody has pulled together," Mr Howard told the Nine Network.
He said the rescue effects that saved the miners' lives were fantastic.
"That's the greatest thing you can do for somebody else," he said.
"Everybody has played a great role.
"It's one of those occasions where everybody is entitled to feel elated at the outcome."
This is just fantastic. That these guys could walk out after being trapped in a cage 1.2m by 1.2m since 25 April, is just amazing. They joked while they were down there - asking for a paper so they could look in the classifieds for a new job, and asking the ambulance drivers to go through a McDonalds drive-through on the way to the hospital for a Big Mac. It truly is a great day in Australia.