Uttarkashi tunnel collapse: Snag forces rescue pause again

Pipes measuring 25 m in length inserted in rubble so far; IAF flies in another auger machine 

Published: 18th November 2023 07:54 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th November 2023 07:54 AM   |  A+A-

Another horizontal drilling auger machine loaded onto an IAF C-17 aircraft before it is airlifted from Indore to Dehradun | PTI

Express News Service

DEHRADUN/NEW DELHI:  The ongoing operation to rescue 40 labourers stranded in an under-construction tunnel in Uttarkashi was forced to take a further pause as a US-made drilling machine stopped around 4 pm on Friday after its driller hit a metal-like rock. 

By then, the machine had inserted a little more than four steel pipes — measuring about 25 metres — horizontally into the rubble. Welding of the fifth pipe to the rear of the fourth one was in progress when the fault occurred. The length of the debris spread, too, extended by 10 metres to about 70 metres, increasing the challenge before the rescuers. 

Sources said, “There was a fault in the bearings of the US-made auger machine, due to which it got dislocated.” A replacement auger machine from Indore weighing 22 tonnes has already been airlifted by IAF’s C17 transport planes. It landed at the Dharasu Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) at Chinyalisaur, which is about 25 km by road from the accident site. 

The US-made machine, too, was flown in by IAF aircraft to the same airport three days ago. Since it was a time-critical mission, the IAF had deployed its C-130Js for the task on November 15. Dharasu ALG is a short and narrow airstrip of 3,600 ft at an elevation of 3,000 ft above the mean sea level. Prior to the landing, IAF helicopters scouted the area to ascertain the feasibility of the operation. Simultaneously, two C-130Js were sent to Agra and Palam to assess the equipment that was to be flown in.

Meanwhile, families of most of the trapped labourers are at the accident site. The administration and family members are in constant communication with the labourers. However, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation director Anshu Manish Khalkho claimed that the US-made auger machine was working satisfactorily and its speed will go up as and when workers get accustomed to running it. Asked if vertical drilling to rescue the workers was also being considered, Khalko said a survey for this was being conducted, but horizontal drilling was seen as the best option as of now. 

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