Hours after the Navy confirmed that it has spotted the body of one of the 15 missing workers in an illegal coal mine that collapsed last month in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district, rescue officials said retrieving it won’t be an easy task.
The body was detected at a depth of 160 feet and at a lateral distance of 210 feet in a rat-hole tunnel with the help of footage from an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV), officials said.
“But there are signs of decomposition and as per expert opinion, efforts to retrieve it will lead to total disintegration of the body… parts have started to disengage,” said R Susngi, official spokesperson for the rescue operation.
Later, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma told reporters that it did not look like rescuers would be able to retrieve the body. Sangma cited two reasons — first, the ROV which detected it cannot pull it out because the body is too heavy for it and it was not possible for rescue divers to enter the mine because the water level has not gone down despite intensive pumping.
Sangma said since December 26, about 2 crore litres of water had been pumped out, but “the water level has not gone down”. He said, “It has been a major logistical challenge.” Secondly, Sangma said, the body had begun decomposing. “It doesn’t look like we will be able to retrieve the body out from the mine as of now. We are trying all options,” he said.
Meanwhile, the district’s deputy commissioner, Federick Dopth, invited family members of at least five of the missing workers to the spot, showed them footage from the ROV and apprised them of the situation. The families are expected to give their opinion Friday on retrieving the body.
At least 15 miners were reported missing when the rat-hole mine collapsed in the Ksan area on December 13, 2018.
On Thursday morning, the Navy posted two tweets on its official Twitter account: “One body detected by Indian Navy Divers using Underwater ROV at a depth of approx 60 feet and 210 feet inside a rat-hole mine. The depth is 160 feet… and the body has been pulled upto the mouth of rat-hole mine and shall be extracted out of the mine under the supervision of doctors.”
However, a top government official said: “We are still examining whether to bring up the body and how. It’s difficult.”
A senior rescue official said: “There are serious consequences in bringing up the body. It could disintegrate, break into pieces. We have left it as of now. Search and pumping (of water) continues in other tunnels.”
Illegal rat-hole mining has continued to thrive in Meghalaya despite a ban imposed in 2014 by the National Green Tribunal (NGT). On Tuesday, the Supreme Court banned the transportation of coal in the state till February 19.