41 workers trapped in India tunnel for 17 days have been rescued

Rescuers plan to pull the workers out through a passageway created with welded pipes that were pushed through dirt and rocks.
Posted at 7:23 AM, Nov 28, 2023

India's transportation minister says all 41 construction workers who were trapped in a collapsed mountain tunnel in the country's north for more than two weeks have been pulled out after rescuers reached them on Tuesday.

Nitin Gadkari, the minister of road transport and highways, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he was “completely relieved and happy” after all were rescued from the Silkyara Tunnel in Uttarkashi after an ordeal that lasted 17 days.

“I am very happy that all the 41 trapped workers have come out and their lives have been saved,” he said in a video message posted on X. Gadkari added that “this was a well-coordinated effort by multiple agencies, marking one of the most significant rescue operations in recent years.”

The workers were pulled out through a passageway made of welded pipes which rescuers previously pushed through dirt and rocks. 

As the first worker was pulled out, Pushkar Singh Dhami, the top elected official in the state of Uttarakhand, presented him with a garland and hung it around his neck as rescuers, other officials and relatives cheered.

A crowd of locals shouted slogans of “Bharat Mata ki Jai,” or “Long live mother India,” and set off firecrackers.

One of the rescuers, Devender, who only gave his first name, told the New Delhi Television channel that “the trapped workers were overjoyed when they spotted us in the tunnel. Some rushed toward me and hugged me.”

The massive rescue mission had grabbed the country’s attention for the past weeks. The workers got trapped on Nov. 12, when a landslide caused a portion of the 4.5-kilometer (2.8-mile) tunnel they were building in Uttarakhand state to collapse about 200 meters (650 feet) from the entrance.

They survived on food and oxygen supplied through narrow steel pipes.

Trapped Indian tunnel workers seen alive for first time since collapse
Trapped workers are shown through a pipeline.

Trapped Indian tunnel workers seen alive for first time since collapse

A camera captured video of the 41 men trapped in India's Himalayas for the first time since the tunnel they were working in partially collapsed.


Kirti Panwar, a state government spokesperson, said about a dozen men had worked overnight to manually dig through rocks and debris, taking turns to drill using hand-held drilling tools and clearing out the muck in what he said was the final stretch of the rescue operation.

Rescuers resorted to manual digging after the drilling machine broke down on Friday while drilling horizontally from the front because of the mountainous terrain of Uttarakhand. The machine bored through about 47 meters (nearly 154 feet) out of approximately the 57-60 meters (nearly 187-196 feet) needed, before rescuers started to work by hand to create a passageway to evacuate the trapped workers.

By Tuesday, they had drilled through more than 58 meters (190 feet). 

Most of the workers are migrant laborers from across the country. Many of their families have traveled to the location, where they have camped out for days to get updates on the rescue effort and in hopes of seeing their relatives soon.

Authorities have supplied the trapped workers with hot meals through a 6-inch (15-centimeter) pipe after days of surviving only on dry food sent through a narrower pipe. They were getting oxygen through a separate pipe, and more than a dozen doctors, including psychiatrists, have been at the site monitoring their health.

The tunnel the workers were building was designed as part of the Chardham all-weather road, which will connect various Hindu pilgrimage sites. Some experts say the project, a flagship initiative of the federal government, will exacerbate fragile conditions in the upper Himalayas, where several towns are built atop landslide debris.

Large numbers of pilgrims and tourists visit Uttarakhand’s many Hindu temples, with the number increasing over the years because of the continued construction of buildings and roadways.