Indian Navy divers on Saturday will join the operation underway to rescue 15 miners trapped inside a flooded rat-hole coal mine in Meghalaya since December 13, officials said on Friday.
The Navy spokesman said in a tweet that a 15-member diving team from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh will reach the site in the remote Lumthari village in East Jaintia Hills district Saturday morning.
"The team is carrying specialised diving equipment including a re-compression chamber and remotely operated vehicles capable of searching underwater," he said.
The Navy carried out an initial assessment on Friday to determine an effective response.
Pump manufacturing company Kirloskar Brothers Ltd and Coal India were jointly moving 18 high-powered pumps to drain water out of the 37-foot-deep mine.
A team of surveyers from the two companies also conducted an on-the-spot assessment of the situation.
They will submit a report to East Jaintia Hills district authorities on the technicalities about positioning pumps for effectively carrying the operation, officials at the site said.
The team would carry special diving equipment including a remote-operated vehicle capable of conducting underwater search.
The Air Force has airlifted 10 pumps from Bhubaneswar. Its personnel have landed in Guwahati, 270 kilometres away from the coal mine, official sources said.
The mine got flooded when water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into it on December 13, trapping the 15 diggers.
A PTI reporter who went to the site on Friday reported that the mine is located on top of a hillock fully covered with trees. To reach the mine, a person has to pass the 30-foot wide Lytein river three times.
No habitation was found nearby and 80-90 illegal coal mines dot the area.
The reporter was told by locals that the illegal private mine was closed for a long time and opened for mining 2-3 days before the the miners were trapped on December 13.
The mine is owned by Krip Schullet, a local who has been arrested since the incident came to the adminstration's knowledge, state officials said.
General Manager of North Eastern Coalfields J Bora arrived with two officials of the company Friday and they were followed by a 10-member team of experts of the Coal India (CIL) to the site to assess the situation, they said.
Bora said CIL is arranging eight high-powered pumps for the rescue operation.
"We are waiting for the initial 10 high-powered pumps. They will be brought here this evening," the Superintendent of Police said.
The high-powered pumps will be transported by road from Guwahati till about two kilometres from the accident site. From there, vehicles have been requisitioned to carry them to the mine, a senior district official said.
Meanwhile, a 20-member team of the Odisha Fire Services Friday left for Shillong with equipment, including high-powered pumps, high-tech equipment and gadgets to assist the local administration in the search and rescue operation, a report from Bhubaneswar said.
Pumping of water from the mine was suspended on Saturday as there was no visible receding of the water level in it. The district authorities had written to the state government seeking high-powered pumps as the two 25 hp pumps, which were being used, were found to be inadequate, an official of the National Disaster Response Force, which is involved in the rescue operation, said.
The incident has become a political issue after Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted about it and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help save the miners.
Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in the national capital Thursday.
The National Disaster Response Force on Thursday contradicted media reports which quoted it as saying the trapped minors were suspected to be dead on the basis of the foul odour the force's divers had smelt when they had gone inside the mine.
It said the foul smell could be due to the stagnant water in the mine as pumping had been halted for more than 48 hours.
Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually 3-4 feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal.
The horizontal tunnels are often termed ‘rat-holes’ as each just about fits one person.