Rescuers dug down a hill to pull out two workers on Monday who were trapped about 40 metres underground for more than a week after part of a tunnel they were constructing in Himachal Pradesh’s Bilaspur district came crashing down.
Satish Tomar and Mani Ram rose to the surface through a narrow shaft drilled for them as their families cheered and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel flashed victory signs, while a search is on for labourer Hirday Ram with whom authorities have failed to establish contact.
The success came a day after torrential rain, sliding debris and an equipment snag hampered operations, forcing rescuers to dig manually in the last leg of the mission.
“It’s a big relief. However, we have not halted the rescue work. Efforts will be made to trace Hirday Ram,” Bilaspur deputy commissioner Manasi Sahay Thakur told reporters at the spot.
The men survived for nine days on biscuits, dry fruits, glucose and water supplied to them by the rescue team through a narrow duct after contact was established with the help of a remote camera and microphone dropped into the cavity.
“Our teams have also begun a horizontal drilling operation to see through the debris and find the third worker who we suspect is trapped somewhere there,” NDRF director general OP Singh, who is monitoring the rescue operation from New Delhi, told PTI.
The labourers were part of a crew of 20 that was constructing tunnel no 4 of the Kiratpur-Nerchowk four-lane road venture when a cave-in blocked the entrance with tonnes of earth and boulders. While the other men working on the 1.2-km project managed to escape, three were trapped.
Locals chanted religious hymns when operations resumed at 2am on Monday following several hours of delay after a hydraulic rig deployed to dig the rescue shaft developed a hitch.
The crowd gave a loud cheer when NDRF member Ashok Kumar who descended into the pit on a second attempt informed his team outside that he had reached the trapped workers.
Helmets, ropes and other safety equipment were lowered into the hole as people waited outside anxiously. At 4.10pm, 41-year-old Mani Ram was pulled out.
Following brief celebrations, rescuers resumed work and 15 minutes later Satish Tomar emerged into the light, greeted everyone with folded hands, posed for the cameras and then joined his co-worker.
A team of engineers, technical supervisors, drilling experts and geologists from Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL), Border Roads Organisation (BRO), and Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL) dug a 1.2-metre-wide hole till the tunnel roof for the NDRF squad to reach the trapped labourers.
(With inputs from agencies)