Marathon 17-day rescue: How 41 trapped tunnel workers in India were pulled to freedom

At first, the rescuers tried to reach the trapped workers – all poor migrant labourers from across the country – by drilling horizontally through the debris, in a straight line, using excavators and drilling machines. But the drilling machine broke down multiple times, frustrating the efforts of the rescuers who were working 24-hour shifts.

They went on digging horizontally by replacing the machine, and 10 days into the mission, a small camera was sent through a narrow pipe that captured initial images of the workers stuck in the tunnel. All were doing fine and hopes for their rescue grew.


The rescuers saw their hopes dashed on the thirteenth day of the operation, when their drilling machine broke down beyond repair. They had less than 20m to go in the digging.

The families of the trapped workers grew anxious. Some were starting to panic.

The rescuers put an alternate plan in motion and began drilling from the top of the mountain – a path that required digging nearly twice the distance of the horizontal shaft.

The trapped workers, who were in the meantime being supplied with food and oxygen through a narrower pipe, were at the risk of falling sick. Officials who kept watch near the tunnel, and even local residents, began offering prayers at a small makeshift Hindu temple in the area, seeking divine help.

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