After a landslide and technical issues hampered rescue efforts, three special aircraft of the Indian Air Force are transporting a 25-tonne ray of hope for the 40 labourers who have been trapped in a tunnel in Uttarakhand for over three days now.
Special teams from Thailand and Norway, including the one that had helped save the children stuck in a cave in Thailand in 2018, have also been roped in to aid in the rescue of the labourers who were trapped after the under-construction tunnel collapsed on the Char Dham route in Uttarkashi early on Sunday morning.
The special machine, which is being brought to the site from Delhi, can penetrate 4-5 metres of debris in an hour and, if all goes well, help push the rescue pipe to the spot where the labourers are trapped in 10-12 hours. The pipe has a diameter of 900 mm, which will be enough for the men to squeeze through
Officials said the machine was expected to arrive late in the evening and it could be installed and work could begin a few hours after it arrives.
Teams involved in the rescue have contacted a company from Thailand which had helped save a junior association football team that was trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non, a cave system in Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, in 2018. That rescue effort took over a week and involved more than 10,000 people and, officials said, the company’s expertise will be invaluable.
Help is also being taken from the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute for suggestions on how to carry out operations inside the tunnel. Such suggestions are also being taken from experts in the Indian Railways and bodies affiliated to it such as Rail Vikas Nigam Limited, Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES) and Indian Railway Construction International Limited.
Anshu Manish Khalkho, Director, National Highways & Infrastructure Development, said, “The machine is on the way and should arrive soon. In three-four hours, we can begin work with it. Debris is being removed but some of it is being replaced by more falling debris. So, that is not our focus. We are trying to push the pipe through.”
“The new machine can push the pipe about 3-4 metres in an hour and we can finish the work in 10-12 hours, but a lot depends on what machines are stuck inside. The labourers are fine, they are getting food and their families and officials are speaking to them to keep their morale up,” he added.
Mr Khalkho said they have a backup plan in place even if this machine does not work and it is very hard to put a timeframe on the rescue plan. “All of us are as worried as the families of the labourers and no one is resting until we rescue our brothers,” he said.
Some family members and other labourers also held a protest near the site over the delay in rescuing the trapped men. Mr Khalkho said he had spoken to the protesters and claimed they have understood the situation and agreed to help in the rescue operation.
A portion of the 4.5-km tunnel on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri National Highway, which is meant to join Silkyara and Dandalgaon in Uttarkashi, collapsed early on Sunday morning. The tunnel is part of the Char Dham project.