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23 Nov, 2023 16:18

‘Keep spirits high’ – survivors’ message to 41 men trapped in tunnel for 12 days

As the rescue mission in India’s Uttarakhand reaches its final stage, RT spoke to miners who witnessed a similar incident 30 years back  
‘Keep spirits high’ – survivors’ message to 41 men trapped in tunnel for 12 days

As the 12-day long rescue mission in India’s Himalayan state of Uttarakhand reaches its final stage, with hundreds of people deployed to help free 41 workers stuck in an under-construction tunnel, RT spoke to those who similarly found themselves trapped in a coal mine over 30 years ago and those who rescued them. 

On November 13, 1989, a series of accidental blasts triggered heavy flooding at Mahabir Colliery in Raniganj in eastern India’s West Bengal state, leading to 71 workers being trapped in a 100-meter-deep mine. Although six miners drowned, 65 others were rescued three days later, when engineer Jaswant Singh Gill suggested using a steel capsule to extract them, one by one.  

In a strange coincidence, a film portraying this rescue, with Gill’s character played by popular actor Akshay Kumar, was released earlier this year. 

Decades later, as the entire country is glued to their screens to witness the rescue of 41 men from the Uttarkashi tunnel, where they have been trapped due to a landslide on November 12, some of the miners who survived the 1989 incident recounted to RT how they were waiting to see the daylight again. 

Bala Kahar, a survivor, recalls that they were rescued using “lifts” after water had started seeping into the mine. Despite the threat, however, Kahar believes that there was “no point in being afraid.”

“I was simply relieved to be back home [after the ordeal],” he told RT. Jagdish Kahar, another survivor, reveals that although he initially had his doubts, they started to ease when the authorities finally established contact with the trapped miners. “Our spirits rose once we heard from the outside world again,” he recalls. 

When asked if he had a message for those currently trapped in the Uttarakhand tunnel, he said: “They should keep their spirits high.” “As authorities have been able to contact them and food and other amenities are being delivered, they are sure to be rescued,” he shared with optimism. 

In the ongoing mission, contact with the workers was established on the day after they were trapped. They were initially supplied with food and medicine via water pipelines before emergency agencies were later able to lay bigger pipes to send them freshly cooked Indian food.  

RT also reached out to Sanjay Bansal, the director of Mining Associates, a company involved in both missions. Bansal noted that the challenge of the rescue in Uttarakhand is of a different nature, as the men are trapped around 250m inside a tunnel, whereas the Mahabir Colliery miners were stuck at a depth of about 100m inside a mine. However, he affirmed that the trapped men would be rescued as hundreds of personnel, including members of his team, are at the site planning the final phase of the rescue. 

Media reports on Thursday suggested that rescuers are just a few meters away from the trapped workers. “We hope to get success in this operation in the next few hours, or by tomorrow”, Lt General Syed Ata Hasnain, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority, said. However, he also cautioned that these operations should not be given a “timeline” as that puts pressure on the workforce. Tunneling expert Arnold Dix, who has flown in from Australia to be a part of the mission, told the news agency ANI that all the men are safe and expressed confidence that they will be brought home safely.

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