Using hooks, ropes and a crane, rescuers attempted Wednesday to reach five miners trapped in an illegal coal mine that flooded in the Meghalayas East Jaintia Hills district following a dynamite explosion in the past three days. Deputy Commissioner E Kharmalki said attempts have been made to get the miners to safety from the bottom of the pit but the efforts have been in vain.

“Our team has so far managed to reach the bottom of the vertical pit with hooks and ropes. “The miners may have been trapped in several of the horizontal smaller holes dug to extract coal,” he said.

The accident site in Umpleng is about 20 km from Khliehriat, the district headquarters of the East Jaintia Hills district. Rescue teams, made up of SDRF and fire brigade personnel, descended the vertical pit early in the morning using a crane that went into operation Tuesday evening to check the depth of the water level, a local judge told PTI.

One rescuer, along with three others, hopped onto an iron basket (5 feet by 3 feet wide and 4 feet deep) attached to the crane with two inches of iron wire to lower it up and down. “We called in the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to help us rescue the trapped workers from the coal mine in Umpleng. A team from the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and the fire department began operations on Monday, ”said the district judge.

Although it was drizzling in the morning, it was sunny later in the day and the operations could be carried out. SDRF and fire department personnel have confirmed that the vertical water depth in the pit is approximately 152 feet, a team leader told PTI.

The district administration has estimated the depth of the pit at over 150 meters. At least five miners have been identified by the district administration – four from Assam and one from Tripura – who are stuck in the rat-hole mine somewhere.

Taking into account the water level, the district administration has requested pumps and labor from the NDRF to support them in the operations. At the scene of the accident, the water level in the pit was determined with the crane.

“It’s about 152 feet. This goes way beyond what our divers can dive. Their limit is around 30 to 35 feet in a high altitude area, “Fire Department team leader G Muktan told PTI. Muktan said he was awaiting instructions from the administration on what to do next.

The district administrator announced that two pumps have reached the site and preparations are being made to lower the water level by pumping the water. “We will be requesting more pumps from other areas of the county as needed,” he said.

The rescue teams use a similar crane that the Assam and Tripura miners use to descend into a pit with an opening about 25 x 25 feet. A rescuer said the depth from the opening of the pit to the surface of the water is about 350 feet or more.

Piles of fresh coal were found along the road from Shi Kilo, Ar Kilo, Lai Kilo and Sookilo to Sutnga and as far as Umpleng. The accident site near Umpleng is not far from the coal mine in the village of Ryngksan, in which 15 miners were trapped in December 2018.

There are eerie similarities between the two mines, both located in a bushy area on top of a hill, a large opening of the vertical pit at both locations, and several miners trapped in the mines when water poured in. The Indian Navy, Indian Army, Air Force and NDRF were involved in the Ryngksan accident in 2018 until the rescue operation was canceled.

When asked about the involvement of the other national authorities in the rescue operations, Kharmalki said: The district administration did not requisition the air force, the navy or the army in 2018. They would have sent their staff after learning of the crisis. We hope you do something now too.

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