Meghalaya mine tragedy: Navy sends divers, IAF airlifts pumps as efforts hasten to rescue miners fortnight after incident

Khliehriat: Pump manufacturing company Kirloskar Brothers Ltd and Coal India on Friday are jointly moving 18 high-powered pumps to a remote coal mine in Khliehriat where 15 diggers have been trapped since its flooding a fortnight ago, officials said.

The Indian Air Force joined the rescue operation and airlifted 10 pumps from Bhubaneswar. Its personnel have landed in Guwahati, 270 kilometres away from the 370-foot-deep illegal coal mine, they said.

Two surveyors from Kirloskar Brothers Ltd arrived at the site Thursday night from Pune and 10 pumps of the company are on the way to Shillong, East Jaintia Hills district Superintendent of Police Sylvester Nongtynger told PTI.

Odisha Fire Services Team on their way to Meghalaya. Twitter@SRC_Odisha

Odisha Fire Services Team on their way to Meghalaya. Twitter@SRC_Odisha

General Manager of North Eastern Coalfields J Bora arrived with two officers of the company in the afternoon and they were followed by a 10-member team of experts of the Coal India (CIL) to the site to begin the assessment of the situation, he said.

The illegal rat-hole coal mine is located at Lumthari village near Khliehriat, the headquarters of East Jaintia Hills district. It got flooded when water from nearby Lytein river gushed into it on December 13, trapping the 15 diggers.

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 CIL team, he said, will conduct all necessary exercises prior to the arrival of the pumps and it will take about eight hours to complete the fitting of each pump before it can be put into operation.

"We are waiting for the initial 10 high-powered pumps. They will be brought here in the evening today," the SP 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.

Meanwhile, a 20-member team of the Odisha Fire Services Friday left for Shillong with equipment, including high-powered pumps, high-tech equipment and gadgets to assist the local administration in the search and rescue operation, a report from Bhubaneswar said.

Pumping of water from the mine was suspended on Saturday last as there was no visible receding of the water level in it. The district authorities had written to the state government seeking high-powered pumps as the two 25 hp pumps, which were being used, were found to be inadequate, an official of the NDRF, which is involved in the rescue operation, said.

Kirloskar Brothers had volunteered to provide equipment to drain out the water from the mine to facilitate the resumption of the halted search and rescue operation in the rat-hole coal pit.

On Friday, a group of Indian Navy divers were being taken by air from Vishakhapatnam to join operations to rescue the miners, official sources said. They said the Navy divers will join ongoing rescue operations on Saturday morning.

Three naval personnel have already reached the site of the rescue operation and a group of divers will join them in the next 12 hours, the sources said.

Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in the national capital Thursday over the coal mine issue.

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.

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Updated Date: Dec 28, 2018 21:37 PM

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