SHIMLA: Trapped for nine days, two workers were today safely pulled out of the rubble of a partially collapsed under-construction tunnel in Himachal Pradesh by rescue teams ending their ordeal amid scenes of jubilation.
Search operations continued for the third worker who is still suspected stuck under the debris of the collapsed tunnel in Bilaspur, about 90 km from here.
Surviving the ordeal, the rescued workers identified as Mani Ram and Satish Tomar were in good health, according to NDRF officials. TV visuals showed the first man, who was brought out, in good health as he waved at his saviours.
Rescuers flashed the victory sign and screamed in jubilation after the two were brought out from the narrow and dark tunnel.
"We have rescued two of the three workers who were trapped in the tunnel for over a week. Beginning this morning our teams have also begun a horizontal drilling operation to see through the debris and find the third worker whom we suspect is trapped somewhere there," NDRF Director General O P Singh, who is monitoring the rescue operation from New Delhi,
However, there has been no communication with the third worker identified as Hriday Ram.
The NDRF commander at the spot said the two men who were rescued were in "good health".
The flawless rescue operation by the men of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) came a day after incessant rains lashed the mishap site and a snag developed in the heavy rig that was drilling through to rescue the trapped.
The workers were trapped inside tunnel No 4 of Kiratpur-Nerchowk four-lane project near Bilaspur when a portion of it collapsed on September 12.
The drilling of 1.2 m diameter tunnel to reach the trapped persons was almost complete and less than 1 m of drilling was left when the heavy drilling rig developed a snag last night, warranting replacement of a part of the drill and the operations were suspended.
The rescuers, earlier, had also established communication with two of the three trapped labourers through digital cameras and microphones after hours of digging.
A 45-member NDRF team, with three specially chosen men in the lead, have been working in the operation for days now.
Food and water had been supplied to the trapped workers through a 47 m and 4-inch diameter bore.
O P Singh said the biggest challenge for his rescue team was to effectively tackle loose rocks and seepage that was occuring in the narrow approach to the main part of the tunnel.
"It was a very risky and long operation as our rescuers were totally exposed to loose rocks. We later used casing pipes to thwart this problem but it could only be done for a small length. The boys did a great job under challenging circumstances," he said.
"It was a tough operation as when we went down the tunnel in the first attempt it was not adequate. We are now looking for the third person and our operation is going on," an NDRF commander at the spot said.
Bilaspur Deputy Commissioner Manasi Sahay, also present on the spot, said the operation was not yet over as the teams were looking for the third person.
"Why should I lose hope? We are trying our best to locate and rescue the third worker," she told reporters.