After a harrowing ordeal which lasted 17 days, all 41 workers trapped several metres inside a tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Silkyara were rescued late Tuesday (28 November 2023). The rescue effort culminated when the last worker came out of the tunnel on a specially modified stretcher.
The stretcher was lowered into a drilled shaft which was two metres and had a pipe inserted to keep it stable and reduce the chances of debris falling and hampering the arduous rescue effort which even involved international help.
Some members from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), tasked with the rescue effort, went down the pipe to meet the workers after the drilling was complete and all checks carried out. They met the trapped, dehydrated and tired men inside the tunnel and guided them to the pipe and their eventual rescue.
The modified stretcher was manually pulled by another team based on the other side and each worker was brought out one by one to the relief and joy of not only those involved in their rescue but also to the 140 crore Indians praying for their safety.
Earlier in the day, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Member Lt General (Rtd) Syed Ata Hasnain provided an update on the rescue efforts, stating that the teams were close to a breakthrough after working tirelessly for the last 17 days.
At a press briefing in New Delhi, Hasnain mentioned that rat-hole mining experts, engaged in manual drilling, had reached the 58-metre mark, with just about two more metres to traverse before reaching the endpoint.
“We’re approaching a breakthrough, currently at 58 metres. There’s a mere two-metre stretch remaining. Workers reported hearing ongoing rescue noises, and we’re hopeful that the tunnel will be pierced through soon,” remarked the NDMA Member.
A temporary medical facility had been setup inside the tunnel for the evacuated workers. The health department had arranged eight beds along with a team of medical experts to provide immediate medical attention upon their rescue.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami was present inside the tunnel to oversee the rescue effort. General Vijay Kumar Singh (retd), the Union Minister of State of Road Transport and Highways of India, was also present at the site.
They greeted each man after they came out of the pipe. The state administration had arranged 41 ambulances, one for each worker which took them to a medical centre in Chinyalisaur, around 30 km away, for a detailed examination.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also briefed by CM Dhami on the rescue and relief operations. PM Modi emphasised on the importance of ensuring the safety of both the trapped workers and the rescue personnel involved.
A section of the tunnel collapsed on November 12, trapping the labourers within a 60-metre stretch on the Silkyara side during construction.