It has been more than a month since 15 miners were trapped inside an illegal rat-hole mine in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills and any hope of finding them alive faded Thursday when the Navy spotted a body at a depth of 160 feet.
The families of those trapped inside since December 13, 2018, after water from a river nearby gushed through a puncture in the mine wall, now at least want their bodies recovered — even if it’s just a finger, a hand or a leg.
Manik Ali, brother of trapped worker Monirul Islam of Assam’s Chirang district, told The Indian Express, “I have told the rescue officers that they should try to retrieve the body. It may necessarily not be of my brother but still, I feel they should retrieve it.”
After spotting the body, rescue officials are still undecided on retrieving the decomposing body. R Susngi, official spokesperson of the rescue operations, said that officials met representatives of families of five workers and explained to them the probability of the body breaking into pieces and disintegrating if attempts are made to retrieve it.
“They have told us that the body will completely disintegrate if extracted. But may be we will get one hand or one leg. Or may be a finger. And then may be doctors can do some tests and identity who was this person. Our family will always hope to get a body. But it seems the officials are concerned about the body breaking into pieces,” said Ali.
Three of the trapped miners are from Chirang district and Ali is at the mine as a representative for three families.
“I spoke to my father and the relatives of the other two men from our area and told them of the situation. Everyone says that even if there is hope for even one body part to be extracted, it should be done,” he said.
Mohammad Shahmat Ali, brother of another trapped worker Shahir Islam, said: “Who will not want the body if it is possible. We have told officials that attempts to retrieve this body should be made and further search for other bodies should continue. We do not know which worker’s body this is but attempts should be made.”
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said Thursday that it is not possible to retrieve the body because of two reasons – the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) which detected it cannot pull it out because the body is too heavy for it and it is not possible for rescue divers to go inside the mine because of the water level. Also, Sangma said the body was decomposing. “The body is soft. Every time they are trying to pull it’s coming off some pieces,” Sangma had said.
According to Susngi, search operation continued through Friday and water was still being flushed out by pumps operated by Odisha Fire Services and Coal India Limited.
Some families believe none are alive. Amzad Ali, a cousin of miners Omar Ali and Shirapat Ali from Magurmari village of West Garo Hills district said: “I don’t know if the bodies will be found at all. Officials have been saying that it is a very difficult location. Pumping has been going on over such a long time now but no result. Our family has accepted that the men won’t return alive. They are gone.”
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