Army called in to help in tunnel rescue operation
Vertical drilling also starts as part of ‘Plan B’SILKYARA: Personnel from Madras Sappers regiment of the Army’s Corps of Engineers were pressed into service on Sunday to clear the escape passage in the Silkyara tunnel where blades of the auger drilling machine had got lodged on Friday, halting the operation to rescue the 41 trapped workers inside.
A plasma cutting machine intended to speedily dislodge the blades, was flown in by IAF from Hyderabad, but did not prove useful. Soon after, at 5 am, Army personnel along with technicians of a private company got on the job, using gas cutting machines to cut the parts of the auger machine.
Plan B was also activated and vertical drilling, for which preparations had been made a day ago, began on Sunday evening. Till the time of filing this report, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited, the agency assigned the task, had drilled up to 19.2 meters of the total of 86 meters required to reach the trapped workers. Mahmood Ahmed, managing director, NHIDCL, said that “a drilling rig with the capability to reach depths of 90-95 meters will be utilised to accelerate the drilling process. We anticipate completing the vertical drilling within the next four days.”
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd), member, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), said that after drilling through the hill, the crust of the tunnel has to be cut for rescue of the workers. “If it’s successful, then the workers will be lifted by buckets one by one,” he added.
A statement by National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), executing agency of the project, which is co-ordinating the rescue effort, said that “the plasma cutter initiated the auger cutting process at 4 am on Sunday, which had to be halted due to operational challenges on-site.”
Later in the evening, officials said that the damaged section of the auger, lodged in the 47-meter long 900mm wide escape passage, had been recovered up to 39 meters, leaving approximately 8 meters pending. They added that the exercise was a time-taking and precarious one and may stretch till Monday.
After the escape passage gets cleared, rescue agencies intend to resume their plan of manual digging and inserting 900 mm pipes through the auger in order to reach the stranded workers, who were 10 to 12 meters away when the operation had stalled. This, officials said, was still the safest bet to reach the workers in the next couple of days.
(With inputs by Dipak Dash)
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