Divers use a pulley to enter a coal mine that collapsed in Ksan. Experts began surveying the site before pumping out hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from the pit. Image Credit: Reuters

Ksan, Meghalaya: A 15-member team of Indian Navy divers and 21 firefighters from Odisha arrived in Meghalaya’s Ksan village on Saturday to assist the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel to rescue 15 miners trapped inside a flooded illegal coal pit for over two weeks now.

The district administration has temporarily suspended pumping of water out of the coal pit since December 24, after two 25 horsepower pumps became ineffective due to continuous operation.

An NDRF rescue team dived inside the main shaft of the coal pit, but could not locate any of the miners.

Surveyors and mining technical experts of Coal India Limited (CIL) began surveying the site before pumping out hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from the 110-metre coal pit.

A project manager for Kirloskar Brothers Limited said India’s leading pump manufacturing company has already dispatched 10 high-capacity pumping machines to the site.

The CIL is also planning to airlift its high capacity submersible pumps of 100 horsepower each that can pump out 2,000 litres of water per minute from various locations to Guwahati airport and transporting them by road to Ksan village in East Jaintia Hills district.

NDRF’s Assistant Commandant Santosh Kumar Singh briefed Lieutenant Commander Khetwal, the team leader of the Indian Navy divers and Sukant Sethi, Chief Fire Officer of Odisha Fire Services on the rescue operation conducted so far by the NDRF and the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) in the past 17 days.

“I have updated them (Indian Navy and Odisha Fire Services) on our rescue operations and the equipment, including sonar system used by us to locate the trapped miners but it did not yield positive results,” Singh told journalists.

Requisitioned by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the Odisha firefighters equipped with high-tech equipment including 10 high-power pumps, reached the site after travelling 220 kilometres from Guwahati airport.

The biggest challenge for the rescuers in evacuating the trapped miners to higher ground from day one of the rescue operations was the non-availability of the “mining map or blue print” with the district authorities.

“We don’t have the mining map. This is going to be very tough challenge for all of us,” General Manager of CIL’s Northeastern Coalfields J. Borah said.

“Six of the eight submersible pumps of 100 horsepower each are on the way to the site from Nagpur, Bilsapaur, Dhanbad and Ranchi. We are also planning to airlift the pumping machines to Guwahati airport,” Borah said.

Meghalaya Police arrested Jrin alias Krip Chulet, the owner of the coal mine from Narwan village. Police said that a hunt is on for more people including the manager of the illegal coal mine.

Chief Minister Conrad Sangma had met union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal and sought immediate Central support to rescue the trapped miners.

Sangma had also promised that “appropriate action will be taken at appropriate time against the people who are involved in the illegal mining and this is not acceptable to us”.