27 Nov 2023

Uttarakhand Tunnel Rescue: 20 meter vertical drilling completed on first day

In the ongoing efforts to reach 41 workers trapped inside the Silkyara-Barkot tunnel in Uttarakhand for 14 days, rescuers have shifted to a vertical drilling approach. On the first day of this new method, nearly 20 meters were drilled into the hill above the tunnel.

Preparatory work on at least five options had been underway for several days, driven by increasing concern over the fate of the workers stuck in the under-construction tunnel along Uttarakhand's Char Dham route.

The vertical drilling method was chosen as an alternative after encountering issues with horizontal drilling from the Silkyara-end, where a 60-meter stretch of rubble impeded progress. This collapse occurred on Diwali morning, isolating the trapped workers.

Vertical boring could be completed by Thursday

By Sunday evening, the heavy drilling equipment had descended to about 19.5 meters, with a total depth of 86 meters needed to reach the tunnel. The National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) managing director, Mahmood Ahmed, expressed optimism that vertical boring could be completed by Thursday, barring any obstacles.

As part of the drilling process, 700-mm wide pipes are being inserted to create an escape passage, while a thinner 200-mm probe has reached the 70-meter mark. The rescue teams had faced challenges with a large auger drill, which became stuck and necessitated the use of a plasma cutter airlifted from Hyderabad.

Switch to manual drilling planned once the auger is fully removed

As of Sunday evening, only 8.15 meters of the auger shaft remained to be cut out, with plans to switch to manual drilling once the auger is fully removed. Additionally, work on alternative escape options, including drilling a 180-meter tunnel and progressing from the Barkot-end, is ongoing.

Despite questions about the absence of an earlier escape tunnel in the project, NHIDCL MD Ahmed emphasized that the immediate priority is the safe evacuation of the trapped workers. A committee has been formed to investigate such concerns at a later stage.

Relatives of the trapped workers remain anxious, and the administration has set up a camp for their families outside the tunnel. Communication links have been established, allowing occasional conversations between the families and the workers inside. The rescue efforts continue amid a sense of urgency to bring the trapped workers to safety.

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