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Dramatic rescue bid in final phase

Low impact explosives being used to break rock

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Australia
Industrial accidents

BEACONSFIELD, Australia (CNN) -- Preparations for drilling through the final section of rock that has trapped two miners in a Tasmanian gold mine since April 25 are under way, but it could be late Monday before the operation begins, a union official said.

Brant Webb, 37, and Todd Russell, 34, have been trapped in a steel cage about a square meter (yard) in size after a large rock fell on it during a minor earthquake.

They have oxygen and have been receiving food, water and items like magazines through a plastic pipe since they were discovered alive on April 30.

Rescuers are just a meter (three feet) away from the men and will have to drill upwards through the rock to reach them.

The miners have been asked to help in the rescue effort by preparing the cavity in which they're stuck.

They have been asked to solidify any loose rocks they can reach and to prepare an area on the floor where the rescuers will eventually break through.

Bill Shorten, secretary of the Australian Workers Union, told reporters that crews were getting ready to begin drilling that shaft Monday morning -- but the preparations could take "all day," he said.

A third miner, Larry Knight, 44, was killed in the quake in the small town of Beaconsfield on the island of Tasmania. Knight's family said they will hold his funeral Tuesday in Launceston.

Rescuers reached the men Thursday through a 16 meter (52 feet) pilot tunnel, but it was not large enough for the miners to fit through. (Watch how the men are awaiting rescue in the gold mine -- 3:08)

Because of concerns that large vibrations could dislodge more rock and cause another cave-in, a team of three rescue specialists was using hand tools, including jackhammers and a chainsaw to work towards the men Sunday. (Watch how rescuers are trying to make it to the miners -- 3:05 )

The rescuers also were using low-impact explosives to split the rocks so they could chisel them away.

Rescue organizers have described the final section of rock being removed as being "five time harder than concrete".

The miners were described as being in good spirits. One of the men has joked that he is resigning from the mine, and asked for a newspaper so he could check the help-wanted ads.

The two survivors were discovered last Sunday, when a thermal imaging camera picked up their body heat.

When the church bell rings the residents of Beaconsfield will know the two miners are safe.

-- CNN's Hugh Williams contributed to this report

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