At the end of a 17-day rescue operation that involved drilling through rock and debris, 41 workers were successfully removed from a collapsed tunnel beneath the Himalayas on Tuesday, to cheers from onlookers.
Before the men were rescued, it took weeks to drill an escape route through the mountain for the workers, drilling the final two metres by hand.
The state of Uttarakhand’s chief minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, was seen on camera interacting with the workers, who looked healthy, as they came out of the tunnel to joyous scenes.
In a statement on X, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that the successful rescue “is making everyone emotional.”
He wrote, “I want the men who were stuck in the tunnel to know that everyone is inspired by your bravery and patience.”
“I also want to thank everyone involved in this rescue effort for their spirit. Our labourer brothers now have a new lease on life thanks to their courage and tenacity. “Everyone involved in this mission has demonstrated incredible human decency and collaboration,” Modi continued.
The men had been stuck since November 12 when the section of the tunnel they were working on collapsed in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, obstructing their only way out with more than 200 feet (60 metres) of twisted metal, concrete, and broken rock.
After a series of excruciating setbacks, the first workers were evacuated. Rescue operations were interrupted when the heavy machinery that was being used to drill through the debris malfunctioned, forcing workers to partially excavate by hand and use other riskier techniques to get them to safety.
The strong US-made drill that the engineers used to excavate the debris in the exit shaft broke down a few metres from the trapped men, forcing them to abandon their efforts late on Friday. Previously, they had attempted to do so using heavy machinery.
In addition, rescuers were concurrently drilling their way down through the precarious mountain terrain as a backup route for the men who were trapped. However, the original plan worked out in the end.
After the drilling was finished, rescuers forced a sizable pipe through the final section of the exit shaft to free the men.
A 53-meter (173-foot) pipe inserted through the debris has been providing food, water, and oxygen to the labourers, all of whom are migrant workers from some of the poorest states in India. According to authorities, the workers are still in good health.
The men inside have maintained regular contact with the on-site doctors, who have provided them with advice on how to stay composed and optimistic. Every day, their relatives gathered at the tunnel’s exit to offer prayers for their safe return.
The tunnel is a component of the contentious multimillion-dollar Char Dham Highway route. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi designed it to modernise the nation’s transport system and enhance access to significant Hindu pilgrimage sites nearby.