Uttarkashi Tunnel Collapse: Thai Cave Experts Join Efforts as Rescue Operation for 40 Trapped Labourers Enters Day 5

As the operation to save 40 men trapped in an under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand continued for the fifth consecutive day, authorities have approached the Thai company that rescued children from a flooded cave in 2018.

Officials have “contacted the Thai company which rescued the children trapped in the cave”, the Uttarakhand government’s department of public relations said in a statement.

The statement was referring to the dramatic operation to rescue 12 boys from a junior football team and their coach who were trapped for more than two weeks in the Tham Luang cave complex.

THAI FOOTBALL TEAM’S “MIRACULOUS” RESCUE

12 young footballers and their coach were on a day trip to the cave complex on June 23, 2018, when heavy rains flooded the Tham Luang cave complex in northern Thailand via underground waterways. They were feared dead until two British cave divers negotiated a series of narrow waterways and corridors and found them on July 2, trapped in a deep chamber, four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the entrance.

Around 10,000 Thai and foreign volunteers were involved in the dangerous and logistically difficult rescue mission, with the ups and downs entrancing the world.

Against impossible odds, thousands of people worked for 18 days and nights to get them out.

HEAVY DRILLING MACHINE AIRLIFTED TO AID RESCUE EFFORTS

A heavy drilling machine was airlifted from Delhi by three IAF transport aircraft Wednesday to replace the “failed” equipment which was being used earlier to create a passage for 40 workers trapped in an under-construction tunnel that collapsed three days back, officials said.

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The ‘American auger’ machine that landed in parts at the Chinyalisaur airport, over 30 kilometres from the tunnel on the Char Dham route, was being put into service amid apprehension by workers at the site on the progress of the multi-agency rescue operations.

Workers chanted slogans at the mouth of the tunnel on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri National Highway, protesting over the “slow” pace of the operation to rescue their colleagues trapped inside for the fourth day.

The plan is to use the ‘American auger’ machine to drill through the rubble of the tunnel’s collapsed portion and insert 800-mm and 900-mm diameter sections of mild steel pipes — one after the other. Once this happens, the workers trapped on the other side of the rubble can crawl out to safety.

The first drilling machine turned out to be too slow and technical issues developed, the officials said. Also, falling debris inside the tunnel damaged the equipment and injured two rescue workers on Tuesday. The replacement machine was carried in three C-130J Hercules aircraft to Chinyalisaur on Wednesday afternoon.

Uttarkashi Superintendent of Police Arpan Yaduvanshi said they were being transported by road to the tunnel, about two hours away. One part of the heavy drilling machine has already reached the tunnel while its other parts are still being unloaded from the aircraft at Chinyalisaur, an official said in Uttarkashi.

“After all parts of the machine arrive here, they will be unloaded and assembled which may take a few hours before being deployed for drilling. With a capacity to penetrate four-five metres of rubble per hour, we can expect it to excavate 50 metres through the rubble in 10 hours,” NHIDCL Director Anshu Manish Khalkho said here.

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The purpose of bringing the new machine is to speed up the process of preparing an escape passage for the trapped, he said. Khalkho also said a six-diametre pipe has been put through the rubble to supply food items to the trapped workers which was being done earlier through a pipe meant for supplying oxygen.

Uttarkashi District Magistrate Abhishek Ruhela said officials are maintaining constant communication with the trapped workers and asking them not to lose patience. “It is a challenging situation. We often tend to lose patience in situations like this. Our officials have spoken to the protesters and asked them not to give up patience. It may take some more time but all the trapped workers will be safely evacuated,” Ruhela said.

(With inputs from AFP, PTI)

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