A group of Indian Navy divers arrived from Vishakhapatnam Saturday to join operations underway to rescue 15 miners trapped in a flooded rat-hole coal mine in Meghalaya since December 13, a senior official said. The 15-member team, equipped with specialised diving equipment including a re-compression chamber and remotely operated vehicles capable of searching underwater, went straightway to the mine site in the remote Lumthari village in East Jaintia Hills district. They were thoroughly briefed by the NDRF personnel, who were supervising the entire rescue operations since their arrival on December 14, a senior official of the East Jaintia Hills district said.
A team of rescuers with 10 high-powered Kirloskar pumps has also reached the spot from Bhubaneshwar, District Superintendent of Police Sylvester Nongtynger told PTI. The mechanical teams are doing the preparatory works and the pumps are expected to begin operations any time now, the SP added. Another 8 high powered pumps mobilised by Coal India Ltd are on the road and are expected to arrive in another 2 to 3 days, North Eastern Coalfields general manager J Bora said.
Pump manufacturing company Kirloskar Brothers Ltd and Coal India were jointly moving 18 high-powered pumps to drain water out of the 37-foot-deep mine. The rat-hole mine located on top of a hillock fully covered with trees had got flooded when water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into it on December 13, trapping the 15 diggers.
Pumping of water from the mine was suspended on Saturday last as there was no visible receding of the water level in it. The district authorities had written to the state government seeking high-powered pumps as the two 25 hp pumps, which were being used, were found to be inadequate, an official of the NDRF, which is involved in the rescue operation, said.
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF )on Thursday contradicted media reports which quoted it as saying the trapped minors were suspected to be dead on the basis of the foul odour the force’s divers had smelt when they had gone inside the mine. It said the foul smell could be due to the stagnant water in the mine as pumping had been halted for more than 48 hours.
A PTI reporter who went to the site on Friday reported that the mine is located on top of a hillock fully covered with trees. To reach the mine, a person has to pass the 30-foot wide Lytein river three times. No habitation was found nearby and 80-90 illegal coal mines dot the area.
The reporter was told by locals that the illegal private mine was closed for a long time and opened for mining 2-3 days before the the miners were trapped on December 13. The mine is owned by Krip Schullet, a local who has been arrested since the incident came to the adminstration’s knowledge, state officials said. Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually 3-4 feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed “rat-holes” as each just about fits one person.