A technical glitch in the heavy-duty hydraulic rig on Sunday forced the rescue of construction workers from a collapsed tunnel of the Kiratpur-Nerchowk four-lane project here to be put off, prolonging the wait for Satish Tomar and Mani Ram, trapped for more than 180 hours now.
With each passing hour, the hopes of rescue are fading, as drilling work on the vertical cavity came to a halt when the machine broke down on Saturday night and could not be repaired till late afternoon, even as a part was shipped from Delhi overnight. Continuous rain since early morning and water ingress in the shaft dug to pull out the trapped men has added to the difficulty.
On September 12, three workers of the Himalayan Construction Company were trapped in Tunnel Number 4 after a section of it collapsed. The fate of third worker, Hirday Ram, is uncertain, since there has been no contact with him, so far. "Engineers are trying to sort it out the technical problem," said Bilaspur deputy commissioner Mansi Sahay Thakur. Rescuers, so far, have dug 40 metres to evacuate the trapped workers.
"The construction company has deployed two more boring machines on the site," said the DC. A 50-strong 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) is at work round-the-clock to dig a 1.2-metre-wide hole till the tunnel roof to send in a National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team that will make a passage beneath through the concrete ceiling and iron ribs.
"Rescue will resume as soon as the machine is fixed," said the DC, adding that rain and water ingress were not a big problem, as the site had adequate drainage and waterproofing and an engine had been deployed to drain out water from the shaft. The hydraulic rig positioned at the site three days ago had broken down on Friday night first, but the work had resumed on Saturday.
On Thursday (September 17), rescuers made first contact with two of the trapped workers and now are speaking to them at regular intervals. A rescue operation through the horizontal route is on simultaneously but slowed down by a wall of more than 60 metres of debris. The 1.2-kilometre tunnel, a project worth `82 crore, had been dug 275 meters when it collapsed 80 metres from the mouth.
NDRF commanding officer Jaideep Singh said completing the shaft was critical to the success of the operation, and once this task was over, his men could reach the survivors.
Rescue routes and status
40m Depth to which a shaft has been dug; because of rain, it's filled with water
1.2m Width of the hole being dug till the tunnel roof to send in NDRF to cut through concrete ceiling, iron ribs
8days Time for which workers have been trapped, so far
1.2km Total planned length of tunnel
275m Length that had been dug when the tunnel collapsed
80m Distance of cave-in spot from the mouth
60m Thickness of debris wall that has slowed down rescue from this route