Over two weeks ago, 15 miners were trapped in Meghalaya after a 320-feet illegal coal mine got heavily flooded. The rescue divers at the remote site in East Jaintia Hills district have only been able to recover three helmets until now. A 15-member diving team of the Navy, loaded with high-power pumps, has been flown in from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and is on their way to the mine to rescue them. Mining was banned in mineral-rich Meghalaya in 2014 after people said it was polluting the 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.
Here's the timeline of Meghalaya miners' rescue operation:
December 11-13, 2018:
The miners started working inside the illegal mine on December 11. Two days later, water from Lytein river and an abandoned mine gushed in and flooded the coal mine trapping the 15 miners. The mine was filled with water till 70 feet.
December 14, 2018:
Rescue operation begins. Over 100 personnel were pressed into action since to rescue the miners from the 320-feet deep mine.
Krip Chulet, one of the accused involved in illegal mining, was arrested.
December 15, 2018:
Rescue operation called off for a day. Meghalaya Home Minister James Sangma called the rescue operation a "difficult task".
December 16-18, 2018:
The Meghalaya government on Monday sought the Union Home Ministry's help to rescue the miners.
Rescue operations resume but incessant rainfall made the road leading to the mine inaccessible. Police said the miners were feared dead.
The Meghalaya Human Rights Commission initiated an action against the state government and issued a notice for an enquiry into the incident.
December 19-21, 2018:
No miner rescued by Day 8 of the operation. Chances of survival appear very slim.
Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma said that it will take 200 pumps to flush all the water out.
December 22, 2018:
The Meghalaya government announced an interim relief of Rs 1 lakh each to the families of the 15 miners.
December 24-25, 2018:
The rescue operations were temporarily suspended. The exercise will resume once more powerful pumps are made available to district authorities, said district Deputy Commissioner.
Officials say the operation will need going deep into 70-feet water. Divers of the NDRF can only go up to 40 feet deep so, without the pumps to drain out water, it will be impossible to resume the rescue effort.
December 26, 2018:
The Meghalaya miners' rescue took a political turn with Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeting for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's attention.
"15 miners have been struggling for air in a flooded coal mine for two weeks. Meanwhile, PM struts about on Bogibeel Bridge posing for cameras. His government refuses to organise high pressure pumps for the rescue. PM please save the miners," Mr Gandhi tweeted referring to PM Modi launching India's longest railroad bridge in neighbouring Assam.
15 miners have been struggling for air in a flooded coal mine for two weeks.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) December 26, 2018
Meanwhile, PM struts about on Bogibeel Bridge posing for cameras.
His government refuses to organise high pressure pumps for the rescue.
PM please save the miners. https://t.co/STZS62vTp4
Union Minister Kiren Rijiju retorted that it was the previous Congress government in the state that facilitated illegal mining.
December 27, 2018:
Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said the state is in the process of acquiring these high-power pumps for the rescue operations.
"The situation right now is very difficult. Almost the entire river came into the mine. 12 lakh litres of water have been pumped out but the water level is rising," Mr Sangma told NDTV.
Experts say at least 10 pumps of 100 horsepower each will be required for the task.
The Meghalaya government said the divers at the site reported they detected foul smell in the cave, 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 three days.
December 28, 2018:
The NDRF divers wait for the water level in the mine to fall from 70 feet to 40 feet, the level at which their divers can operate. A group of Indian Navy divers were being flown in from Visakhapatnam to join the operation.