Meghalaya mine: Odisha Fire Service and NDRF personnel load tools on C-130J Super Hercules plane
Guwahati/New Delhi: A heavy-lift transport plane of the Air Force carrying high-power pumps has taken off from Odisha for Guwahati in Assam, from where the equipment will be taken to a rat-hole mine in Meghalaya where 15 men are trapped for three weeks. Low-capacity pumps used by the National Disaster Response Force or NDRF turned out ineffective in extracting water from the collapsed mine in Meghalaya's East Jaintia Hills. NDRF senior officials said water from an adjacent abandoned mine and a nearby river kept flooding the rat-hole mine, making it unsafe for their divers to operate. The high-power pumps are arriving three weeks after the mine collapsed on December 13. Here's your 10-point cheat-sheet to this big story:
- The Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules plane is bringing heavy equipment of the Odisha Fire Service. It is not known how the equipment would be taken to the hilly East Jaintia Hills from Guwahati airport, whether it would be airlifted by a helicopter or taken by road to the mine 213 km away.
- The Air Force decided to cooperate after receiving a request for help from the National Disaster Management Authority, people with direct knowledge of the matter said. The mission to airlift the equipment comes three weeks after the incident.
- It took a week for the district commissioner at East Jaintia Hills to send a letter to the Meghalaya government for acquiring powerful pumps, sources said. Nearly another week went by before Coal India Ltd, the world's largest coal miner with expertise in operating heavy pumps, got word for help, they said.
- Coal India is sending high-capacity pumps from its mines in Asansol in West Bengal and Dhanbad in Jharkhand. They are being transported by road, sources said. These special pumps are not available even in Coal India's mine in Upper Assam, nearer to Meghalaya.
- A team of heavy pump-maker Kirloskar Brothers Ltd is at the mine on a survey mission to work out how it can help, sources said. Powerful pumps manufactured by the Indian company were used to save 12 boys trapped in a Thai cave in July. "…We hope all miners are rescued safely," Kirloskar Brothers said in a statement.
- NDRF divers who went down to the flooded mine reported foul smell on Thursday, raising concerns it could be from decomposed bodies. NDRF officials at the site, however, said they are not certain whether the foul smell is of decomposed bodies as it could be from stagnant water, which has not been pumped out for days.
- The NDRF divers are waiting for the water level in the rat-hole mine to fall from 70 feet to 40 feet, the level at which their divers can operate. "It is one of the most challenging operations in the history of the NDRF. Our divers are not trained for this kind of a situation," NDRF Commandant SK Sastri told NDTV. He is leading the 1st Battalion of the NDRF for the rescue operation at East Jaintia Hills.
- The Meghalaya government led by Chief Minister Conrad Sangma denied allegations by the main opposition Congress that it handled the crisis in a "sloppy" manner. Mr Sangma said it was not prudent to "play politics" on such a sensitive issue. "There is no question of calling off the rescue operation; it is only going to be taken up at a different level now…" the chief minister told NDTV.
- Congress president Rahul Gandhi also taunted Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet, accusing him of posing for photographs while the miners remained trapped in precarious conditions.
- Mining was banned in mineral-rich Meghalaya in 2014 after people said it was polluting water bodies. But the practice continues with locals illegally extracting coal using dangerous "rat-hole" mines, which means digging into the side of hills and then burrowing horizontal tunnels to reach a coal seam.