The operations to rescue the labourers trapped in the Uttarakhand tunnel stretched into 14 days on Sunday, with the focus now shifting to vertical drilling as the horizontal drilling exercise had to be stopped due to damage to the Augur machine, which has blocked the passage.

The rescue efforts are now focused on vertical drilling from the Silkyara end by hydropower generator SJVNL. The drilling began at 1200 hrs on Sunday, and so far (till 1600 hrs), 15 metres have been drilled out of the total 86 metres required to reach the labourers trapped inside the tunnel since November 12.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) said in its daily media briefing (updates till 1600 hrs) that broken parts of the Augur drilling machine are stuck in the passage, which are now being removed manually.

To further accelerate clearance of the horizontal passage, a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) team from Hyderabad with a plasma cutter has arrived at the site, and cutting has started. After this passage is cleared, rescue workers will manually drill the remaining 12–15 metres to reach the trapped labourers.

Rescue teams had cleared 45 metres for the horizontal passage before Augur’s joints got stuck and broke down.

The National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL), which is conducting this horizontal drilling from the Silkyara end, is the most promising lead to reach the labourers. The second-best option is the vertical drilling being done by SJVNL.

Other measures

Some progress has been made in the horizontal drilling from the Barkot side by THDC India (THDCL). The company has initiated the construction of a rescue tunnel, and a fifth blast was done to further clear the passage. The total executed length of drift is 10.6 metres, and fabrication work on 13 ribs has been completed.

In the case of perpendicular-horizontal drilling by Rail Vikas Nigam (RVNL), the equipment for micro tunnelling required for horizontal drilling has reached the site from Nashik and Delhi. The work of making the platform is in progress.

Another vertical drilling exercise by RVNL at the Silkyara end is being done. Here, the access road of 1,150 metres has been completed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and handed over to RVNL. The machine for drilling is towed to the location by BRO. The platform for vertical drilling has been completed. Drilling started at 0400 hours on Sunday, and 40 metres were completed.

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) is bonding a vertical drilling exercise from the Barkot end. The air drilling rig from Indore has reached the site, and all the associated materials of the air hammer drilling rig mobilised by ONGC are on standby at Rishikesh as the road and location for the placement of the rig for drilling are being prepared by BRO. To assist in cutting the Auger blades and shaft, ONGC has arranged a Magna Cutter machine. The team with machinery has reached the site.