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Trapped Indian tunnel workers on verge of dramatic rescue

The 41 construction workers who have been trapped in a tunnel for 16 days are on the verge of being rescued as rescuers have broken through to them.

Rescuers in India have broken through to the 41 construction workers who have been trapped in a tunnel for 16 days with officials saying they are on the verge of pulling the men to safety, in what would be a dramatic end to an operation fraught with setbacks and delays.

The workers have been trapped beneath a collapsed road tunnel in the Uttarkashi district of India's Uttarakhand after a portion of it collapsed due to a landslide on Nov. 12.

Rescuers had struggled to cut through the rocky debris with heavy drilling machinery breaking down on numerous occasions. On Friday, a U.S.-made Auger machine broke down irreparably, and workers began manual drilling using hand-held drilling tools over the weekend as another drilling machine was set up in its place.

INDIAN TUNNEL RESCUE HALTED FOR DAYS AS DRILLING MACHINE BREAKS DOWN

However, officials say the manual drilling has proven successful, with rescuers on Tuesday breaking through to the desperate workers who will soon be pulled out via a 90 cm diameter passageway made of welded pipes inserted through the rubble. 

"Soon all the laborers brothers will be taken out," Pushkar Singh Dhami, a top official in Uttarakhand state, where the accident occurred, posted on X.

The Indian Air Force's Chinook helicopter, an enormous twin-rotor aircraft, has reached the Uttarkashi district and will be used to airlift the trapped workers from the hospital, according to the BBC.

MORE THAN 30 DEAD, 18 INJURED AFTER BUS PLUNGES INTO GORGE IN INDIA

Dozens of ambulances have also been spotted outside the entrance to the tunnel, while locals and family members of the trapped workers have also gathered.

Arnold Dix, an international tunneling expert who is helping with the rescue, told reporters at the site on Tuesday that he was confident the men would now be saved.

"I just feel good," Dix said. "The drilling on top of the mountain is coming along perfectly, in the tunnel, it’s coming along very well. I have never said ‘I feel good’ before."

It will take about three to five minutes to pull out each worker, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Syed Ata Hasnain, a leader in the tunnel rescue operation, said. 

"So, it will take about three to four hours to rescue all 41 workers," Hasnain said. 

The construction workers have been trapped since Nov. 12 when a landslide caused a portion of the 2.7-mile tunnel they were building to collapse about 500 feet from the entrance. The hilly area is prone to landslides and subsidence.

The workers had been helping to construct a section of a 424-mile road connecting various Hindu pilgrimage sites in the area. The mountainous topography has several Hindu temples that attract pilgrims and tourists.

Shortly after the collapse, rescue personnel were able to establish contact with the workers and they were able to send them oxygen, food and water. More than a dozen doctors, including psychiatrists, have been at the accident site monitoring their health.

A U.S.-made auger machine was being used to penetrate 195 feet horizontally through the mountainous terrain, but it broke down on Saturday and could not be repaired. 

A new machine was being set up at the site in order to drill vertically, but it is understood that the machine was not needed as the manual drilling proved successful.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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