Rescue officials said it will take around five to seven minutes to extract each worker
All 41 men trapped underground in a tunnel in Uttarakhand's Silkyara were rescued late Tuesday, beginning the home stretch of a frantic 17-day multi-agency op that relied, in the final stretch, on the banned manual "rat-hole"-mining technique employed after high-tech machines, or augers, failed to drill through the nearly 60 metres of rock that has threatened to bury the workers.
The extraction process took some time to allow each worker to re-acclimatise to surface conditions, where the temperature is around 14 degrees Celsius at this time.
The workers were brought out on specially modified stretchers; these were lowered manually down a two-metre-wide pipe inserted into holes drilled into the hillside. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami was at the spot, hugging the workers as they came out.
Personnel from the National Disaster Response Force, or NDRF, had gone down the pipe first to assess the condition of the trapped men and guide them through rescue protocols. Each worker was strapped to the stretcher that was then manually pulled up through 60 metres of rock and debris.
The ambulances - 41 of them, one for each worker - moved out in batches from the tunnel site with the rescued workers for the emergency medical facilities set up in Chinyalisaur, around 30 km away.
As soon as the first workers came out of the tunnel, the rescue personnel and those at the site welcomed them with garlands, sweets, and cheers. Families of the trapped workers rejoiced after meeting their loved ones for the first time in 17 days. The rescued workers then spoke to their families back home.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation in praising the courage and patience of the trapped workers and their families and the bravery and determination of the rescue personnel.
"The success of the rescue operation of our labourer brothers in Uttarkashi is making everyone emotional. I want to say to those trapped in the tunnel that your courage and patience are inspiring everyone. I wish you all well and good health. It is a matter of great satisfaction that after a long wait, our friends will now meet their loved ones. The patience and courage these families have shown in this challenging time cannot be appreciated enough," the PM wrote on X.
"I also salute the spirit of all the people associated with this rescue operation. Their bravery and determination gave new life to our labourer brothers. Everyone involved in this mission has set an amazing example of humanity and teamwork," he said.
Nitin Gadkari, the Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways, posted a video message on X. "Thanks to everyone involved in the Silkyara Tunnel rescue operation," he wrote.
Elaborate preparations were made for the rescue. An Air Force Chinook chopper was standing by for emergencies and a green corridor was created to transfer the workers to the hospital in Chinyalisaur.
Last evening, "rat miners" - labourers who drill narrow shafts as part of a primitive and currently illegal method of coal extraction - were brought in to manually dig the rocks in the 12-metre last stretch after an American Augur drill had to be withdrawn after its blades got fouled up by the debris and iron rods.