Meghalaya mine tragedy: Multi-agency rescue efforts resume to track trapped miners after divers fail to reach bottom of pit

Navy divers on Monday successfully entered the inundated rat hole coal mine at East Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, where 15 miners have been trapped since 13 December. A 15-member diving team of the navy from Vishakhapatnam had arrived at Meghalaya on Saturday to help with the rescue operations.

The 15 miners have been trapped in a 370-feet deep illegal mine in Lumthari village here since 13 December, when water from the nearby Lytein river flooded the quarry.

JS Gill, retired engineer-in-chief of Coal India Limited, said it would take five days to pump out water once the process is started. "Navy divers have gone inside. Let us see what is recovered by them. If nothing is recovered, then we will pump out the water. Pumps have arrived, but generators have not. After generators come, it will take five days to pump out water," he said.

 Meghalaya mine tragedy: Multi-agency rescue efforts resume to track trapped miners after divers fail to reach bottom of pit

Representational image. 101 Reporters

SK Singh, Assistant Commandant of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), said: "An NDRF team is working in coordination with the Odisha Fire Services personnel who arrived with 10 high-pressure pumps. A 20-member team of the Odisha Fire Services is also assisting the local authorities and NDRF in the rescue operations... They are carrying all equipment and pumps with them to take out the water from the inundated mine."

The navy diving team arrived on Saturday equipped with specialised equipment, including high-pressure pumps, a re-compression chamber and remotely-operated vehicles capable of searching underwater.

However, the multi-agency rescue operation launched on Sunday to rescue the miners did not yield results as the rescue divers from the navy and NDRF could not reach the bottom of the pit, officials said.

"Six divers from the Indian Navy and NDRF went down the shaft of the mine and reached a depth of about 80 feet from the surface of the water. They spent over two hours searching for traces of the miners in the shaft," East Jaintia Hills district Superintendent of Police (SP) Sylvester Nongtynger said. According to navy officials, the depth of water from the surface till the bottom of the pit was expected to be over 150 feet.

Another assistant commandant of the NDRF, Santosh Kumar, who is heading two teams of his force in the search-and-rescue operation, had said they had managed to place an inflated boat in the flooded water to serve as a platform for the divers to keep their equipment.

The had SP said the divers will use hi-tech equipment, including a remotely operated vehicle, to search for the miners on Monday. He added that the horizontal holes, where the miners were stuck, were suspected to be at the bottom of the shaft. The officer said pumps were expected to be pressed into service on Monday, in an attempt to lower the level of the water in the mine.

The Indian Air Force has also provided two aircraft to the Meghalaya government to airlift specialist personnel of the NDRF from Odisha to help in the rescue operations. The Defence Ministry has promised all help to the state government.

On Friday, the NDRF denied media reports that claimed that the divers had "indicated" the 15 trapped miners may already be dead. On Wednesday, reports had claimed that NDRF personnel had experienced a "foul odour" emanating from the mine pit after they lowered into the 320-feet tunnel that leads to the horizontal "rat hole" tunnels through which miners excavate the coal. Some reports concluded that the foul smell was a sign of decomposing bodies.

Kumar had said a section of the media has misquoted the rescuers, denying that the NDRF "indicated that trapped miners could be dead", as reported. "When water gets confined in a tunnel for days, a foul odour is normal. You cannot say this smell is from the decomposed dead bodies," Singh clarified.

Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma has stated that the rescue operation has become extremely difficult as the water level has been continuously rising. On Saturday, one of the survivors said there was "no way" the trapped miners could be rescued alive. Sahib Ali, hailing from Assam's Chirang district, is one of the five men who narrowly escaped the flooding coal mine.

Ali said, "I was about 5 to 6 feet inside the mine pulling a cart full of coal. For some unknown reasons, I could feel a breeze inside the mine, which was unusual. What followed was a loud sound of water gushing in. I barely made it to the opening of the pit. There is no way the trapped men will be alive. How long can a person hold his breath underwater?"With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Dec 31, 2018 12:24:31 IST



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