Uttarkashi Tunnel Collapse: Drilling For Final Stretch Comes To Halt After Another Hurdle, Workers Expected To Be Rescued By Tomorrow

While the drilling to rescue 41 trapped workers in the Uttarkashi tunnel is in its last phase and workers are expected to be extracted by tomorrow, three or more hurdles are likely to be encountered in the drilling of the final stretch of debris, according to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Member Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain.


Rescue operation underway in Uttarkashi

Even as the authorities on Thursday evening said that 41 workers trapped in an under-construction tunnel for 11 days at Uttarakhand's Uttarkashi could be rescued in the next few days or by tomorrow, the drilling came to halt later in the evening as the rescuers encountered another hurdle.

Earlier in the day, the rescuers resumed drilling through the debris after a gap of around six hours. A metallic object had come in the way of the drilling and the drilling had to be stopped as the object was cleared. Once the object was cleared, the drilling resumed. 

The latest halt in the drilling, reported by media around 8:30 pm, is in line with the expectations. National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Member Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain had earlier said that three to four hurdles could be encountered in the ongoing final phase of the drilling. 


While there is optimism that the mainstay approach of inserting the pipe through the debris to extract the workers would work, the rescuers are working on alternative plans as well. They are building a tunnel from the other side as well in case the mainstay approach does not work. This approach, however, could take many days as the tunnel had to cut all the way through to the workers.

Earlier on November 12, a part of the under-construction tunnel at Silkyara in Uttarkashi caved in and trapped 41 workers. The Silkyara tunnel is part of the Char Dham Project, which has been flagged over environmental concerns over the years, owing to the fragility of the Himalayan geology. The workers are trapped inside a 2-km stretch of under-construction tunnel. They have access to water and the area is well-lit as electricity connections were not snapped when the incident happened. Through pipes, they have also been provided with food and oxygen is also being pumped in there. They also have access to water. 


Here are the latest updates related to the Uttarkashi rescue operation.

Final phase drilling comes to a halt

Even as the authorities are confident of extracting the 41 trapped workers, a hurdle on Thursday evening led to a halt in the drilling process.

The platform on which the 25-tonne auger machine drilling through the debris is mounted has developed cracks, reported PTI. 

Describing the cracks as a "setback", the agency reported officials as saying that they will "stabilise" the platform before the drilling is resumed.

Workers could be extracted by tomorrow: NDMA

The workers trapped for the past 11 days in the under-construction tunnel at Uttarakhand's Uttarkashi are likely to be rescued in the next few hours or by Friday, said National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Member Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain earlier on Thursday evening.

"I expect that in the next few hours or by tomorrow, we will be successful in this operation," said Hasnain, adding that the rescuers may face three-four more hurdles in the ongoing final phase of drilling, as per PTI. 

Hasnain's statement came before the latest update of the drilling being suspended because of the drilling machine's platform developing cracks.

Earlier, the drilling work through 57 metres of debris was suspended for a few hours after the rescuers faced a girder rib as an obstacle. Once the object was removed and the machine was reassembled, the drilling resumed. 

While Hasnain said the workers could be rescued as early as in a few hours, he also said it was not fair to speculate on a timeline.


Besides the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), a number of agencies are involved in the ongoing rescue operations and each is carrying out a designated task. Some of the other agencies engaged are Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Sutluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN), Rail Vikas Nigam (RVN), and National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDC), and Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC). The tunnel was being constructed under the aegis of NHIDC by a contractor company. 

As the rescue operation continues in its final phase, a 41-bed hospital has been readied at Uttarkashi and ambulances have been deployed at the site of the tunnel.


We are at the door to the workers: International expert Arnold Dix

International disaster management expert Arnold Dix, who is assisting in the Uttarkashi rescue operation, said that the current situation is like reaching the door and knocking on it. He said that the rescuers at the doorstep and the workers are just there on the other side. 

Dix further told PTI that all the agencies and experts from all Indian institutions are involved in the operation and it is going on in full-swing. He added that workers would be physically and mentally sound by Christmas. 

"This is a situation where we are rushing. If we rush, we can cause a problem we can't imagine. So, we are being very considerate. That's for all the authorities working together. We've never had that before. It's the case of all working together. It's a case of India leading by example of how to be considerate, respectful, professional, and not fighting among all the organisations," said Dix to PTI.


Alternative options also on the table

While the authorities are hopeful that the mainstay 'trechnless' technique, under which pipes are being inserted in the debris for workers to crawl out, would be successful, they are also working on alternatives in case it does not work. The alternatives include digging a tunnel from the other end and exercising the option of vertical digging. While the blasting has started at the other end of the tunnel to lay the groundwork for digging, preparations have also been made for vertical digging.

International expert Arnold Dix said that the decision to start vertical digging has to be taken after careful deliberation as it could also affect the ongoing drilling from the auger machines for the insertion of pipes through the debris. 


The authorities are working on a five-option action plan and five agencies, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Sutluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN), Rail Vikas Nigam (RVN), and National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDC), and Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC), are engaged in the work. Each of the five has specific responsibilities.

"THDC has initiated the construction of a rescue tunnel from the Barkot end, with four blasts already completed, resulting in a 9.10-metre drift. Efforts are being made to carry out three blasts per day. Equipment for micro tunnelling required for horizontal drilling to rescue labourers has reached the site. Platform likely to be completed by November 24, 2023. Equipment is to be set up by November 25, 2023," reported PTI, adding that the Indian Army is mobilising box culverts for this purpose and fabrication of frames has started.


The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has completed the construction of an approach road for vertical drilling by SJVNL and RVNL, reported PTI. Though the decision to go ahead with vertical digging has not yet been made but it remains as an option. The BRO is also building an approach road for the ONGC for geological surveys.