The mission to rescue the 41 workers trapped in an under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand encountered another snag as the auger machine being used to drill broke inside the rescue pipes on Friday, reported The Indian Express. The drilling process will now have to be done manually.

A part of an under-construction tunnel on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri national highway collapsed in the early hours of November 12. The tunnel is part of the Char Dham Road Project to build all-weather roads in Uttarakhand.

Following this, a multi-agency operation involving the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Sutluj Jal Vidyut Nigam, Rail Vikas Nigam Limited, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited and Tehri Hydro Development Corporation Limited began to rescue the trapped workers.

The rescue team had planned to drill through the 60 metres of debris blocking the tunnel by using a large machine with an auger. The plan was then to insert pipes through the space that was created to get the men out.

However, the auger joint broke while it was being pulled back after a new obstruction was observed at the mouth of the pipes on Friday evening.

At a press conference outside the tunnel on Saturday, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said that a plasma cutter would be used to cut the auger machine that is stuck.

“The cutter is being airlifted from Hyderabad and is likely to reach Dehradun by tonight,” said Dhami. “It would then reach Silkyara by late at night. Manual drilling will begin from tomorrow morning.”

Meanwhile, officials said that the workers got the last food consignment at 9 pm on Friday. It included 200 rotis, 15 litres of daal, 23 litres of water and 40 containers of vegetables.

‘Workers will be home by Christmas’

Tunnelling expert Arnold Dix, who is assisting the rescue operation, said on Saturday that the team was looking at several options to bring back the trapped workers safely but there would be no more drilling from the auger.

“[The auger] is irreparable,” he was quoted as saying by ANI. “There will not be a new auger.”

Dix said that all options they are exploring have their advantages and disadvantages. “What we have to ensure is the safety of the rescuers as well as those who are trapped,” the official said.

He added: “I will just say that I have always promised that they would be home by Christmas. If we rush, we can cause another problem in there.”

This came as the Sutluj Jal Vidyut Nigam came on standby to begin the vertical drilling. The Border Roads Organisation has created an access road to the tunnel. They have also built a platform at the top of the hill, through which the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited drilled a six-inch vertical pipeline being used to supply food to the trapped workers.