The rescue operation to evacuate the 15 miners trapped inside a rat-hole mine in Meghalaya is still underway even as agencies are racing against time to find them alive. On Friday, the Indian Navy joined the Indian Air Force in the ongoing rescue operations in Meghalaya.
In a statement, the Indian Navy said that they have deployed a 15-member diving team to assist in the rescue operations and that the divers, who have been airlifted from Vishakhapatnam, will reach the site tomorrow. They also said that an initial assessment of the situation was taken today by the Navy.
According to the statement, the team is carrying specialised diving equipment including a re-compression chamber and remotely operated vehicles capable of searching underwater. The team is expected to arrive on site tomorrow. An initial assessment to determine an effective response was undertaken by the Navy today, the statement added.
Earlier in the day, an Indian Air Force plane carrying high-power pumps and NDRF personnel took off from Odisha to help in the rescue effort. Also onboard the aircraft is the Odisha Fire Services team. The Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules plane will land in Guwahati, from where the powerful pumps will be taken to Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills.
The workers were trapped in the ‘rat-hole’ mine on December 13, after water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into it. While the water level in the mine has not receded, the rescue personnel have not attempted to pump out any water since Monday, as the two 25-HP pumps have proved ineffective.
The Indian Air Force decided to join the rescue efforts after the National Disaster Management Authority requested help to airlift the rescuers. Director General of Fire Services B K Sharma said a 20-member team led by chief fire officer Sukanta Sethi left for Shillong in a special Indian Air Force aircraft with equipment, including high-power pumps. “They will assist local authorities in the rescue of the trapped coal miners,” he said.
The team is carrying at least 20 high-power pumps, apart from other high-tech equipment and gadgets. Each pump is capable of flushing out 1,600-litre water per minute. The team will first study and analyse the situation at the site before working out plans for the search and rescue mission, the official said.
Coal India Limited is also likely to send high-capacity pumps to the accident site. J K Borah, general manager North Eastern Coalfields of the Coal India Limited, told The Indian Express that the requisitioning of at least six pumps from locations like Ranchi, Dhanbad, and Asansol was initiated on Thursday. “The pumps will arrive here shortly, in a few days,” Borah said. A team from Coal India will visit the spot Friday to “see the ground reality.”
Two teams from Kirloskar Brothers Ltd are already present near the mine. The group had also dispatched heavy equipment and helped with technical expertise when a dozen soccer players and their coach was stranded inside a cave in Thailand. “We are deeply concerned about the trapped miners in Meghalaya and are ready to help in whichever way possible. We are in touch with the officials of the Government of Meghalaya to offer our assistance in this regard,” Kirloskar Brothers Ltd said in a statement late Wednesday night.
The NDRF who are engaged in the rescue efforts since day-1 reported a “foul odour” near the mine. “That is not a good sign,” says Santosh Singh, NDRF Assistant Commandant, who is heading the rescue work. While he declines to comment further, NDRF personnel discuss that the “foul odour” could indicate that the miners are dead and the bodies are beginning to decompose.
In the past two weeks, no headways have been made in the search operations. The rescuers could not find any clue on the location of the 15 miners in the over 300-feet pit and adjoining ‘rat-hole’ sized tunnels. Only three helmets have been recovered till now.
Apart from lack of right equipment, the level of water in the mine is another spoiler in the rescue efforts. The NDRF divers, as per their training and guidelines, only attempt rescue operations when the water level is less than 40 feet. Currently, the water in the mine is about 70-feet deep.
The incident has also sparked a political war. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi accused Prime Minister Modi of “strutting on Bogibheel Bridge and posing for cameras,” and ignoring the plight of trapped miners.
Meanwhile, Shillong MP Vincent H Pala on Friday said that earlier, the state government did not take it seriously to send pumps. “I hope with the new pumps coming, they will be able to pump water. It will take minimum 2-3 days and then we will be able to retrieve the bodies,” he was quoted as saying by ANI.
“I’m very sure most people have died, I came to know from local people that there is no chance of people there, those who survive, they run away since the mining was illegal,” he added.