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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Uttarakhand's Silkyara tunnel - all 41 rescued !

A joyous day for the Nation -  all the  41 workers trapped underground in a tunnel in Uttarakhand's Silkyara have been rescued today. The breakthrough came after rat-miners were brought in last evening and manually dug the last stretch.  


A great moment for the Nation – time for gratitude – Nation is grateful to the concerted efforts of  our beloved PM,  Army, NDRF, SDRF, MoRTH, tunnel experts & everyone else  involved in the rescue operation of 41 workers trapped inside the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand. The resilience displayed by those trapped for over 17 days is an inspiration for us. Congratulations to all! 

The Silkyara Bend–Barkot tunnel was being constructed by Navayuga Engineering Construction Limited (NECL) as part of the Char Dham all-weather road project connecting four sacred sites, and it was located on the Yamunotri end of National Highway 134. That National Highway is planned to connect Dharasu on the south end to Yamunotri on the north end. The tunnel will shorten the route by about 20 kilometres (12 mi). It is planned to be 4.5 kilometres (2.8 mi) long.


At approximately 5:30 am on 12 November 2023, a section of the Silkyara tunnel under construction collapsed. The collapse occurred around 200 meters from the entrance of the tunnel, trapping 41 construction workers inside.  A team of geologists from the state government and educational institutions was sent to the location for analysis and rescue. Operation Zindagi was launched by the State government to save the trapped workers. Two tunnel boring machines were  deployed during the rescue efforts, the second (flown in three parts) after the progress of the first was not speedy enough The rescue team contacted the team that freed the students from the Tham Luang cave in Thailand in 2018 also. 

Drilling through the debris in the tunnel was stopped on 17 November after cracking sounds were heard. Alternative access tunnels were started parallel and adjacent to the existing main tunnel. Three pipes were drilled during the operation, one providing oxygen, one providing passage for dry food, and a 6 inches (15 cm)-wide pipe that was used to supply hot meals and allow the insertion of an endoscopic camera. 

As days progressed and as rescue operations were hit with more ordeals there was palpable tension and panic.   A few hours ago, comes the happy news that all forty-one workers  trapped inside Silkyari tunnel since November 12  have been  evacuated safely. The rescued workers were draped in orange marigold flower garlands and were greeted by Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and Union Minister VK Singh. 

The trapped workers were pulled out through 57 metres of steel pipe on stretchers fitted with wheels. Rat-hole miners emerged as the heroes as they drilled with their hands to safely evacuate all 41 workers trapped in a collapsed Uttarakhand tunnel. The smiles on their faces hid all the exhaustion from digging in the cramped tunnel where even breathing becomes a challenge.  "The workers were so happy seeing us. They hugged us and offered us almonds," Devendra, one of the miners, told NDTV. "We cut 15 metres. We were very happy when we reached there and got a glimpse of them," said another. 

The rescuers resorted to rat-hole mining, a banned practice, after a high-tech, imported drilling machine broke down in the final stretch of the operation. The miners then began manually drilling their way to the trapped workers. After the heavy auger drilling machine broke down two days ago, the rat-hole miners retrieved the broken parts and began drilling the remaining stretch with their hands. Their escape tunnel reached the workers this evening and they were rolled out on stretchers. Meanwhile, vertical drilling was also underway as a secondary option in case the horizontal drilling faced another obstacle.


Those trapped for 17 days have undergone great ordeal and had shown exemplary resilence in keeping up their hopes – the efforts of all those involved in rescue, the planning, strategy and execution all deserves high praise.

With regards – S Sampathkumar


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