Trapped workers rescued after 17-day ordeal in Himalayan tunnel


Uttarakhand tunnel rescue: Trapped workers rescued after 17-day ordeal. (Photo: YouTube Screenshot/Firstpost)

In a remarkable display of perseverance and human ingenuity, all 41 Indian labourers who were trapped for 17 days in the collapsed Silkyara-Barkot tunnel in the Himalayan mountains have been successfully rescued on November 28. The awe-inspiring scenes unfolded as the first men emerged on stretchers from the tunnel entrance, marking the end of a gruelling 400-hour rescue operation that faced multiple obstacles and setbacks.

The teams from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), the Indian Army, tunnelling experts and rat-hole miners were all involved in making this rescue a success.

The rescue efforts, which initially relied on mechanical drills, took a dramatic turn when a specialist team of “rat-hole mining” experts was flown in to manually drill through the last stretch of rubble. Rat-hole mining, a primitive method that is outlawed in some states of India due to its high risks, involves extracting coal through narrow tunnels. Despite the dangers, this unconventional approach became the beacon of hope for the trapped workers.

The 4.5 km-long tunnel in Uttarakhand, part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s flagship Char Dham project connecting key Hindu pilgrim sites, collapsed on November 12, trapping the workers inside. The incident occurred in the early hours, causing a 150-metre segment of the tunnel to cave in.

The rescue mission faced numerous setbacks, with a mechanical drill breaking down just 12 metres short of completing the passage. A new strategy involving vertical drilling was initiated, despite warnings from geologists about potential cave-ins. As the drilling machine encountered difficulties, the decision was made to deploy a team of “rat-hole” miners equipped with hand-held tools to manually clear the passage.

The final triumph came as these mining experts, through sheer determination and labour, manually broke through the last 12 metres of rubble. An “escape passage” pipe was inserted, allowing rescuers to reach the trapped workers using wheeled stretchers and oxygen cylinders.

The scenes outside the tunnel were jubilant, with friends, family and local residents celebrating the successful rescue with cheers, firecrackers and flower garlands. The tunnel collapse had gripped the nation, and the collective relief was palpable as the labourers emerged unharmed.

Authorities had maintained communication with the trapped workers throughout the ordeal, providing them with oxygen, food and water through a narrow pipe. The men, mostly in their 20s, remained in good health and high spirits, engaging in activities like yoga and cricket to pass the time.

After the successful rescue operation, Modi spoke to the workers over the phone, commending the rescue team’s efforts. All workers, gathered in a room, engaged in a conversation with the prime minister. Expressing emotional sentiments, Modi praised the courage and patience of the trapped workers and their families. He wished them well and good health, emphasising the satisfaction of reuniting with loved ones after a challenging time.

Arnold Dix, a Geneva-based expert associated with the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association, expressed his satisfaction with the rescue’s success, stating, “The mountain has told us one thing, that is to be humble.”

Dix, known for his expertise in legal, environmental, political and ethical aspects of underground construction, joined the rescue mission on November 20 and helped formulate the plan for the rescue. “I did anticipate ‘rat-hole’ mining would be the breakthrough. That was part of the advice I gave because I could see that with every big machine used the mountain’s reaction was more severe,” he told NDTV.

Vaqeel Hasan, the head of Rockwell Enterprises, the company responsible for the rescue operation, highlighted the diversity of faiths within his team. Speaking to Indian Express, he emphasised the immense pressure and motivation to save lives, acknowledging the global significance of the rescue.

As the rescued labourers were transported to a hospital for check-ups, the Uttarakhand government released a statement attributing the success to both science and faith. The investigation into the cause of the tunnel collapse is underway, with a focus on examining the role of drilling on the mountain.

The successful rescue of the trapped workers has strengthened faith and led to expressions of gratitude to God in Christian congregations across India. ASK365 and other prayer networks had been fervently praying for the trapped workers since the tunnel collapse. Furthermore, on Sunday, November 26, Christians nationwide held special prayers for the workers, responding to a call by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.





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