- Over 15 people were trapped inside a "rat hole" mine for last 15 days
- The rescue team said divers are not trained for this kind of a situation
- Water from multiple sources entering the mine is complicating the rescue
The operation to rescue over 15 people trapped inside a "rat hole" coal mine in Meghalaya for the last 15 days is one of the most challenging the National Disaster Response Force has seen, its commandant SK Sastri told NDTV.
The Meghalaya government has said time is running out to save the men trapped in the flooded mine, which had been operating illegally. Divers have been searching for the miners.
"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," said Mr Sastri, who is leading the 1st Battalion of the NDRF for the rescue operation at East Jaintia Hills.
The illegal coal mine at Ksan in the district's Saipung area had collapsed on December 12, following which it was flooded by water from the adjacent Lytein river.
"The initial information we got about the incident was insufficient. The mine is extremely deep and a huge volume of water keeps flooding the mine even after pumping it out," he said. Recent rain in the area made matters worse.
He said the illegal mine is interlinked with other abandoned mines in the area and the river.
"Rat hole mines are not mapped, so the NDRF doesn't know what's below. There is no safety system in such mines," Mr Sastri said. "We are hopeful of finding them, dead or alive," he added.
Water from multiple sources is still entering the mine, further complicating the rescue operation, people familiar with the matter said. While the water had reached a height of 70 feet on Monday, NDRF divers armed with sonar devices and high-calibre lights could only descend to a depth of 30 feet earlier this week.
"The coal was soft. We could understand that there was water seepage that has made it soft. The sardar (manager) knew which part of the mine had more water. He stopped us from using two seats of the mine because there were chances of the floor caving in and water gushing inside," Sayeb Ali, 22, who was on duty at the mine that morning, had told NDTV.
The National Green Tribunal banned coal mining in Meghalaya in 2014 after environmental activists complained it was responsible for severe water pollution. But the practice continues with locals illegally extracting coal using the dangerous "rat hole" mines.