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‘Wrong move, everyone dies’: How hero Aussie led miracle Indian rescue

Melbourne expert leads rescue of 41 stranded Indian miners

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An Australian engineering professor has revealed his fears of failure as he led the harrowing two-week rescue of 41 stranded miners in India.

Melbourne engineering expert Arnold Dix said he was confronted with the “catastrophic failure of the mountain” when he arrived at the collapsed tunnel in the remote Himalayas.

He said the rescue had been a “millimetre by millimetre” effort.

“The thing is with this game that we’re playing, if we make a wrong move, everyone dies,” Dix told Nine’s Today show on Wednesday, shortly after the miracle rescue.

“Not only does everyone die who is in there, but probably us as well.”

All 41 of the construction workers were finally pulled from the tunnel in Uttarakhand state late onTuesday. They had been trapped since it caved in on November 12.

They were plucked to safety – with all said to be “absolutely fine” – only hours after drilling to reach them broke through the debris of rock, concrete and earth.

But for Dix, it had never been certain.

“I was confronted with a mountain that internally had an avalanche with millions of tonnes of rock and a huge cavity inside the mountain … and 41 people … on the other side alive,” Dix, who is also president of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association, told Seven’s Sunrise on Wednesday.

“It was a huge team of experts, the experts here in India who were just fantastic in understanding the Himalayas.

“I just had a feeling that we were going to be able to do it.

“I landed and had a look and promised to the families and said, ‘41 men are coming home safe and no one is going to get hurt’.

“But actually my little inside voice was going, ‘Exactly how are we going to do that, Arnold?’.”

The men had been getting food, water, light, oxygen and medicines through a pipe. Efforts to dig a tunnel to rescue them with high-powered drilling machines were frustrated by a series of snags.

On Monday, Indian authorities turned to “rat miners” to drill through the rocks and gravel by hand from inside the evacuation pipe pushed through the debris after machinery failed.

The rat miners are experts at a primitive, hazardous and controversial method used mostly to get at coal deposits through narrow passages, and get their name because they resemble burrowing rats.

Brought from central India, they worked through Monday night. They finally broke through the estimated 60 metres of rocks, earth and metal on Tuesday afternoon (local time).

Dix, who is also a lawyer and engineering professor, said the rescue operation was “like doing surgery”.

“We were facing this catastrophic failure of the mountain, which had collapsed on the men … and I thought hopefully I won’t have to do this again,” he told Sunrise.

“But I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, doing this sort of work.”

india tunnel rescue

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami welcomes a rescued worker. Photo: Getty

The removal of the men – low-wage workers from some of India’s poorest states – began more than six hours later. They were pulled out on wheeled stretchers through a 90-centimetre wide steel pipe, with the entire process taking just an hour.

Dix told Today the remote rescue was like poking a needle through the mountain.

“Somehow or other we managed to rescue all these people and it’s just phenomenal,” he said.

Dix said emotions overwhelmed him when the workers finally made it to freedom on Tuesday after 17 days of effort.

“We have shown the world that being good and nice and looking after other people’s kids is what we should do,” he said.

“I’m just over the moon. I feel like I’m just over the moon.”

The first to be pulled out, a man wearing a dark grey winter jacket and a yellow hard-hat, was garlanded with marigold flowers and welcomed in traditional Indian style inside the tunnel by state chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and federal deputy highways minister VK Singh.

Some of the men walked out smiling and were hugged by Dhami. Others made gestures of thanks with clasped hands or sought blessings by touching his feet.

All were garlanded and also presented with white fabric stoles by Dhami and Singh. All seemed to be healthy, Dhami said.

“Since they have come out of a very different environment, we will follow the advice of the doctor – they will be monitored first. No one is critical,” he said.

“None of their symptoms are of weakness or fever, they are all healthy. While there were stretchers for them to come out, they chose to come out crawling on their own.”

Ambulances that had lined up with lights flashing at the mouth of the tunnel transported the workers to a hospital about 30 kilometres away.

Indian road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari thanked the rescue workers and said in a post on X that a “safety audit of the tunnel will also be done now”.

-with AAP

Topics: India
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