Since then, several methods have been tried to rescue them – using large excavators to remove the debris; trying to drill through the rubble and insert pipes for the workers to crawl through – first by using a machine from Dehradun, and then one from Delhi.
The American-made “horizontal dry drilling equipment with an auger” brought in from the national capital, however, kept getting lifted off the ground once it hit the 22-metre mark, and its bearings were damaged. An additional machine was delivered by the Air Force to Jolly Grant Airport and carried to the spot on Saturday morning, but it had not been brought into use by the evening.
According to a report on the rescue operation, around 2.45 pm on Friday, a loud cracking sound was heard by the team working inside the tunnel, causing panic.
It was later explained that the same symptoms were also observed in previous occasions of collapse here, and based on this, there is a possibility of further collapse taking place in a part of the tunnel between 150 metres and 203 metres from the Silkyara side. The debris is between 205 metres and 260 metres, and the workers are beyond.
During the day, several officials, including Ministry of Road Transport and Highways Additional Secretary Mahmood Ahmed, former Advisor to PM and Officer on Special Duty (Tourism) Bhaskar Khulbe, PMO Deputy Secretary Mangesh Ghildiyal, Engineering Geologist Varun Adhikari and Expert Engineer Armando Capellan reached the spot to explore further options.
“We are looking at possibilities we can explore and reach those who are trapped inside at the earliest. We looked at (the possibility of going) vertically, from one side or another, the height, the contour, and the inclination. We looked at what could be the possible options. We will take suggestions from all the experts and discuss where we need to start working and what could be the time frame,” said Khulbe.
“So far, we have only marked four spots and the work is ongoing. These include one vertical, and one each from both sides (of the mountain). We want to work on this simultaneously, and independently keep working without thinking about what other agencies are doing,” he said, adding that they will also discuss the risks involved in the vertical or side drilling.
Talking to The Indian Express, Arnold Dix, president of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association, said he is also coming to help with the rescue operations. “We are putting all our international expertise at disposal of India,” he said.
Varun Adhikari, an engineering geologist who visited the spot, said they are exploring all possibilities, and geologists from all relevant organisations are present.
“We will listen to their prospects and decide what are the possibilities. We are exploring all options, including vertical drilling (from the top of the mountain), drilling through the muck, and drilling from the opposite (Barkot) side of the tunnel. All available options will be explored. Teams of the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam, and National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd are here. We are also involving the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation,” said Adhikari.