Amid shouts of jubilation and sighs of relief, two workers were rescued from a collapsed road tunnel under construction near Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh, India, Monday.

Satish Tomar (C) gestures after being rescued from the collapsed tunnel under construction at Tihra, in Bilaspur district
Satish Tomar (C) gestures after being rescued from the collapsed tunnel under construction at Tihra in Bilaspur district

It was a rare story of survival for Mani Ram and Satish Tomar as they patiently waited for help in darkness 40 meters underground for about 200 hours.

This may be the longest time anyone has ever survived being trapped underground.

Ram and Tomar flashed victory sign as they were pulled out of the tunnel by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team into the waiting arms of their families at 4.30 pm.

Rescuers felt immensely relieved after a long and tiring operation that suffered many setbacks.

But they cannot rest as there is still no word on the fate of the third worker Hriday Ram trapped in the tunnel.

“The operation is not over and we are still hopeful of rescuing him,” said Manasi Sahay, Deputy Commissioner of Bilaspur.

Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Virbhadra Singh said he was relieved that two workers have been finally rescued.

Jaideep Singh, commanding officer of NDRF said: “We managed to evacuate Mani Ram and Satish Tomar, who were stuck in the tunnel since September 12. Both are fine and have been taken to the nearby zonal hospital in Bilaspur (town) for examination.”

The three workers of the Himalayan Construction Company were trapped in Tunnel Number 4 being built for the Kiratpur-Nerchowk four-lane project after a cave-in blocked the entrance with tonnes of earth and boulders.

The 1.2-kilometre tunnel, a project worth Rs 82 crore, had been dug 275 metres when it collapsed 80 metres from the mouth.

Rescuers first made contact with  Tomar and Ram on September 17, and food and water were dropped during the week after engineers drilled a thin 47-metre (154-foot) shaft down to the roof of the tunnel.

Early Monday, an NDRF team doing drilling work on the collapsed tunnel realized that the opening was not big enough to pull out the workers. After more drilling, the final effort was launched Monday afternoon.

Earlier, after establishing contact, the two trapped workers were given a mobile phone that had songs installed on it to keep them in good spirits in the dark tunnel.

A remote camera and microphone were lowered on Saturday. Rescuers spoke to the two workers who said they were not injured in the accident.

Using heavy machinery, engineers spent days trying to dig a wider shaft to allow rescuers to be lowered into the tunnel.

A 50-member team of engineers, technical supervisors, drilling experts and geologists from Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL), Border Roads Organisation (BRO), and Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL) was at work to dig a 1.2-metre-wide hole till the tunnel roof to send in an NDRF team.

But there were initial setbacks as the heavy-duty hydraulic rig positioned at the site broke down Friday night.

Although work on the vertical cavity resumed Saturday, it came to a halt when the machine broke down again that night.

On Sunday, another technical glitch forced the rescue operation to be put off.

Continuous rain since early morning and water ingress in the shaft dug to pull out the trapped men further hampered rescue efforts.

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