Disasters & Accidents

Indian rescuers shift to Plan B after setbacks in race to save workers trapped for 15 days

New Delhi, Nov 26 (EFE).- Indian authorities said on Sunday that the rescue mission for 41 workers trapped in an under-construction Himalayan tunnel has shifted to a second plan, facing hurdles and continuing into its 15th day.

The rescue operation, hindered by equipment failures and Himalayan challenges, is likely to take days or even weeks to safely pull out the workers from the tunnel, obstructed by tons of debris.

Facing setbacks with the initial plan of opening a horizontal cavity, rescue officers initiated a new drilling operation three days after the equipment failure.

Syed Ata Hasnain, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority, said the alternative plan involved vertical drilling, with 15 meters of the targeted 86 meters already completed to reach the trapped laborers.

A broken auger on Friday further complicated the operation, requiring experts to stabilize the existing drilling and remove broken parts to resume excavation.

It marked the fourth equipment failure in the operation, necessitating the use of a new machine to extract remnants of the damaged drill from the tunnel.

International tunnel expert Arnold Dix, involved in the rescue operations, noted the shift from mechanical to manual horizontal drilling.

It meant the simultaneous implementation of both plans for an effective rescue strategy was needed.

“The best plan so far is Plan 1 (horizontal drilling), where the interior drilling will be done manually (…) The second-best technique is still vertical drilling,” Hasnain said.

While it remains challenging to determine the completion timeline, Dix expressed optimism that “the 41 men will be home for Christmas,” acknowledging that the new plans could take days or weeks.

The workers have been trapped since Nov. 12 when a tunnel section collapsed in Silkyara, Uttarakhand, burying them under a 60-meter-thick layer of debris.

Despite setbacks, the trapped workers have received essential supplies, including food, water, medicines, and oxygen, through a narrow pre-existing pipe.

In addition to the damage to the boring machine and the folding of one of the pipes that delayed the operation on Thursday, the breakdown of another drill last week, replaced with a more powerful one, has complicated the ongoing rescue mission. EFE

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