DEHRADUN, India: Indian rescuers are contemplating a groundbreaking approach to liberate 41 men stuck in a collapsed tunnel in the northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Excavation efforts to remove debris have faced setbacks due to falling debris and machinery breakdowns, prompting officials to explore new strategies.
Efforts to drill horizontally through the debris, creating a passage for the trapped workers, were halted on Friday after a cracking sound raised concerns of a potential collapse. The government’s highways and infrastructure company, NHIDCL, cited the risk of “further collapse” as the reason for pausing drilling.
As a response to the challenging conditions, rescuers are now considering the unconventional approach of creating a vertical shaft from above. This alternative method involves drilling down from the top of the hill to reach the trapped miners. The possibility of a new shaft is being explored to expedite the rescue operation.
Relatives of the trapped workers, who have communicated with them through radio, described grim conditions and low morale. The rescue teams had been attempting to drive a steel pipe horizontally through the debris to create a passageway wide enough for the workers to navigate.
Bhaskar Khulbe, a senior government official involved in the rescue, stated that all available options and resources were being explored. While the timeline for the rescue was not detailed, Khulbe mentioned a maximum of “four to five days” as the potential timeframe.
Preparations for drilling a vertical hole from the hill’s top have commenced, offering an alternative route for the rescue. A photograph circulating in Indian media shows an excavator clearing soil on the forested hilltop.
Experts, including tunnel specialist Arnold Dix, are being consulted for their insights. Dix, the president of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association, expressed confidence in the rescue efforts, stating, “We are going to bring those 41 men home.”
The collapsed tunnel incident highlights the challenges associated with extensive construction in Uttarakhand, an area prone to landslides. The ongoing rescue operation emphasizes the need for innovative approaches to address complex emergencies in challenging terrains.