16 days after Meghalaya accident, 3 helmets recovered from rat-hole mine; navy joins rescue ops but pumps still hours away

On sixteenth day of rescue operations for 15 Meghalaya miners trapped inside a flooded rat-hole mine, three helmets have been recovered even as hope of saving the men, trapped in a tunnel-like space under 70 feet of water since 13 December, becomes bleak.

Meanwhile, Indian Navy divers on Saturday joined the operation to rescue the 15 miners trapped in a rat-hole mine in the remote Lumthari village in East Jaintia Hills. The crucial pumping equipment, much needed to bring down water levels to a level safe enough for the divers to venture in, is however still hours away from reaching the site .

"We first need to survey the entire mining area before pumping out the water from the pit. Our eight pumps of 100 HP each and other equipment are on the way," General Manager of CIL's Northeastern Coalfields J Bora told Outlook.

Bora said CIL has mobilised eight high-powered pumps from its establishments across the country and the pumps will be transported to the site by road. The farthest place from where a pump has been mobilised is Bilaspur in Chhatisgarh and the truck carrying it will take three to four days to arrive, Bora said.  The high-powered pumps will be transported in trailers
from Guwahati till about two kilometres from the accident site. From there vehicles have been requisitioned to carry them to the mine, a senior district official said.

Rescue teams at the mine in Meghalaya where 15 workers have been trapped since 13 December. Image Courtesy: 101Reporters

Rescue teams at the mine in Meghalaya where 15 workers have been trapped since 13 December. Image Courtesy: 101Reporters

Pump manufacturing company Kirloskar Brothers Ltd and Coal India were jointly moving 18 high-powered pumps to drain water out of the 37-foot-deep mine. A team of surveyers from the two companies also conducted an on-the-spot assessment of the situation.

They will submit a report to East Jaintia Hills district authorities on the technicalities about positioning pumps for effectively carrying the operation, officials at the site said. The team would carry special diving equipment including a remote-operated vehicle capable of conducting underwater search. The Indian Air Force has airlifted 10 pumps from Bhubaneswar. Its personnel have landed in Guwahati, 270 kilometres away from the coal mine, official sources said.  Kirloskar Brothers had volunteered to provide equipment to drain out the water from the mine to facilitate resumption of the halted search and rescue operation in the rat-hole coal pit.

A 21-member team of fire fighters from Odisha, who was airlifted by Indian Air Force's C-130J Super Hercules from Bhubaneswar to the Guwahati airport, are also proceeding towards the site at Ksan village in East Jaintia Hills district.

Meanwhile, a six-member team of the Opposition Congress in Meghalaya visited the site and found several lacunae in the arrangements made by the district administration. The legislators led by Ampareen Lyngdoh expressed their surprise over district magistrate FM Dopth going on leave in spite of the tragedy of such a scale. "Precious lives are at stake but the officer in-charge of the rescue operations has been allowed to go on leave," she said, demanding that the district magistrate be immediately recalled.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi had on Wednesday attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the incident. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) had on Thursday contradicted media reports which quoted it as saying the trapped minors were suspected dead on the basis of the foul odour the force's divers had smelt when they had gone inside the mine.

It said in a statement that the foul smell could be due to the stagnant water in the mine as pumping had been halted for more than 48 hours. Two NDRF teams are engaged in the search and rescue
operation. Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually 3-4 feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed "rat-holes" as each just about fits one person.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Dec 29, 2018 10:57:54 IST

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