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Chinook Helicopter On Standby For Trapped Uttarakhand Tunnel Workers


The Air Force’s Chinook helicopter will not be flown at night due to poor weather conditions.

New Delhi:

The Air Force has stationed a Chinook helicopter – a twin-rotor heavy-lift chopper – at the airstrip in Uttarakhand’s Chinyalisaur, where an emergency medical centre has been set up to treat the 41 workers trapped underground in the Silkyara tunnel. Rescue teams are now just two metres, or 6.5 feet, from breaking into the collapsed cavern which has been the labourers’ prison for 17 days now.

The chopper can be used in case any of the rescued workers need urgent medical aid; they can be airlifted either from the tunnel site to the Chinyalisaur hospital (a distance of 30 km) or flown to the premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Rishikesh (a distance of around 160 km).

However, the IAF helicopter is understood to be a back-up option.

Forty-one ambulances are on standby at the site of the tunnel collapse – one for each worker – to bring them to the Chinyalisaur hospital by road; local police will organise a ‘green corridor’ to ensure each ambulance reaches the hospital as quickly as possible. A makeshift medical centre has also been set up – at the mouth of the collapsed tunnel – to provide first aid and emergency care.

READ |ย Uttarakhand Tunnel Rescue Anytime, Hospital, Chopper On Standby: 10 Facts

The helicopter, though, will not be flown today. Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain (retd.), a member of the National Disaster Management Authority, said “we will not fly it during the night”.

“Chinook helicopter is at Chinyalisaur airstrip… (but) the last time to fly the Chinook is 4.30 pm. We will not fly at night. Since there is a delay (in the rescue process), the workers will be brought the next morning,” he said, “… if it is an urgent situation, at night one or two ambulances can be sent.”

The NDMA member stressed that adequate medical arrangements had been made at Chinyalisaur.

“A 30-bed facility is ready at the district hospital and a 10-bed facility is ready nearby. The Chinook can fly at night but the weather is not favourable… and there is no urgency as such,” he explained.

As of Tuesday evening, less than seven feet, or two metres, separate the 41 trapped men and freedom.

Rescue teams are clearing the final few metres of debris – thanks to the banned manual “rat-hole”-mining technique pressed into service last night after high-tech machines, or augers, failed to drill 60 metres – and lay two-feet wide pipes to create an escape route.

READ |ย How Rat-Hole Mining, Outlawed, Saved 41 Trapped In Uttarkashi Tunnel

“We are near a breakthrough… but not yet there. Manual work has carried on the entire night and we have reached 58 metres (thanks to) our ‘rat miners’ and Army engineers. The trapped workers inside have said they can hear noises of work being done…” Lt General Hasnain explained.

READ |ย 2-Metre Digging Still Left Before 41 Trapped Workers Can Be Pulled Out

Officials told NDTV National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and emergency medical personnel with stretchers have taken over the rescue op, and have begun to work their way into the collapsed cavern.

The rescue plan hinges on a single NDRF personnel crawling down a two-metre-wide pipe to assess the condition of the trapped men and begin the process of bringing them out.

The workers will be brought out one-by-one on a specially-modified stretcher that will be pushed down the pipe and pulled up manually. A temp medical centre has been set up where each man will be examined and given first aid, if needed, before they are prepped for transport in the ambulances.

Located 30 km from Uttarkashi and 139 km drive from state capital Dehradun, the Silkyara tunnel is an integral part of the centre’s ambitious (and controversial) Char Dham all-weather road project.

With input from agencies

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