The fate of five miners – four from Assam, one from Tripura – trapped in a rat-hole coal mine in Meghalaya since Sunday night is still unknown with rescue efforts on.
The accident site at Umpleng is about 20 km from Khliehriat, the district headquarters of East Jaintia Hills district. The district administration has estimated the depth of the pit to be over 500 feet. A dynamite blast had led to the flooding of the coal mine on Sunday.
The Telegraph reported that this was the second mine mishap since January when six labourers from Assam had perished. The accident site at Umpleng is not far away from the coal mine at Ryngksan village in which 15 miners were trapped in December 2018.
East Jaintia Hills District Magistrate E. Kharmalki told The New Indian Express that the "problem is that the coal pit is more than 500-foot-deep and there is water. We have to make use of the crane which the miners used to go down."
Eyewitnesses told the paper that the mine-owner, one Nizam Ali, was absconding.
The Opposition Congress has slammed the government, saying it had repeatedly denied that illegal coal mining activities were taking place. Such mining continues to take place in Meghalaya, despite having been banned by the NGT in 2014, due to a lack of jobs.
With hooks, ropes, and a crane, rescuers on Wednesday tried to reach out to the five miners. Kharmalki said attempts were made to fish out the miners to safety, from the bottom of the pit, but in vain.
"As of today, our team has managed to reach the bottomof the vertical pit with hooks and ropes. The miners could have been trapped in several of the horizontal smaller holes dug to take out coal," he said.
The rescue teams, comprising personnel of the SDRF and Fire Service, descended the vertical pit early morning to verify the depth of the water level by using a crane which was made operational on Tuesday evening, a magistrate at the site told PTI.
A rescuer along with three others hopped onto an iron basket (5 feet x 3 feet wide and 4 feet deep), attached to the crane by a two-inch iron wire used, for lowering it up and down.
"We have requisitioned the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to assist us in rescuing the trapped labourers from the coal mine at Umpleng. A team of State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and the Fire Service has begun the operations since Monday," the district magistrate said.
Though it was drizzling in the morning, it was sunny later in the day and the operations could be conducted.
Personnel of the SDRF and the Fire Service – have verified that the vertical depth of water inside the pit is about 152 feet, a team leader told PTI.
Taking the water level into consideration, the district administration has requisitioned pumps and manpower from the NDRF to assist them in the operations.
At the accident site, the water level at the pit was determined using the crane.
"It is about 152 feet. This is way beyond what our divers can dive. Their limit is about 30-35 feet in a high altitude area," the Fire Service team leader G Muktan told the news agency
Muktan said he was awaiting orders from the administration on what to do next.
The district administrator said two pumps have reached the site and preparations are on to lower the water level by pumping the water.
"We will requisition more pumps from other areas of the district if the need arises," he said.
The rescue teams are using a similar crane that miners of Assam and Tripura use for descending into a pit whose opening is about 25 feet x 25 feet.
A rescuer said, the depth from the opening of the pit to the water surface is about 350 feet or more.
Heaps of fresh coal were found deposited along the road from Shi Kilo, Ar kilo, Lai kilo, and Sookilo till Sutnga and up to Umpleng.
The accident site at Umpleng is not far away from the coal mine at Ryngksan village in which 15 miners were trapped in December 2018.
There are eerie similarities between the two mines both are located at a bushy area on top of a hillock, a big opening of the vertical pit at both the sites, and several miners trapped inside the mines when water gushed in.
At the Ryngksan accident in 2018, the Indian Navy, Indian Army, the Air Force, and the NDRF were involved at the site until the rescue operation was called off.
When asked about involving the other national agencies in the rescue operations, Kharmalki said, The district administration did not requisition the Air Force, the Navy or the Army in 2018. They had sent their personnel after coming to know about the crisis. We hope they will do something now as well.
With PTI Inputs