As the final phase of the rescue operation to liberate 41 workers trapped inside the under-construction Silkyara-Barkot tunnel unfolds, rescuers encounter some last-minute challenges, Indian Express reported.
Officials engaged in the rescue efforts confirmed on Thursday (23 November) that a day prior, the auger machine, responsible for drilling through the debris, encountered a mesh of lattice girders, causing damage to certain parts of the machine.
The initial plan was to drill through approximately 55 meters of debris, insert pipes into the created space, and extract the trapped workers through those pipes.
According to officials, they successfully cleared the metal girders and resumed drilling. However, after advancing 1.8 meters, another similar obstacle appeared to impede their progress.
“The obstruction (on Wednesday) was a lattice girder that was at the mouth of the pipe that we had thrust to 45 meters. That has been successfully removed. The entire focus now is on reassembling the pipe for a fresh push of six meters, which takes roughly around four hours, including assembly, welding, and pushing,” explained Bhaskar Khulbe, a former adviser to the PMO and Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to the Uttarakhand tourism department.
Khulbe added, “Our current calculation is that we need to negotiate a total distance of 60 meters to safely reach our trapped workers. This means 18 meters more, roughly about 14-15 hours, unless something else happens.” He clarified that the lattice girder caused an obstruction at the mouth of the pipe, and the auger had been repaired to the extent possible. Corrective measures have been taken to enhance the movement of the auger.
Later in the day, Neeraj Khairwal, Secretary of the Uttarakhand Government, explained that when the machine encountered the metal girders, it had to be withdrawn entirely to assess the issue, a process that took about two hours.
“We then sent our experts (into the pipes) to remove the issue. However, it was a very tough job as gas cutting in the closed area of the pipes creates a lot of heat. Two teams failed to do that. Then the Trenchless Engineering company called their experts, Praveen and Balvinder, who stayed inside for over two hours and cut the girders. After cutting through the metal, the old assembly line of the machine was established, and since then, we have progressed by 1.8 meters,” said Khairwal.
He mentioned that late in the afternoon, they faced additional hurdles, but instead of pushing further, the experts opted to inspect the obstacle to clear the path for further drilling.
Mahmood Ahmad, the Managing Director of National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), noted that if excessive pressure builds up again, they may need to repeat the process of bringing the machine back and analyzing the blockage.