18/01/2019 12:14 PM IST

In Search For Trapped Meghalaya Miners, Navy Divers Spot Skeletons

The navy divers had also found a body of one of the 15 trapped miners.

Stringer . / Reuters
Rescuers work at the site of the collapsed coal mine.

NEW DELHI/SHILLONG — Navy divers have found a body of one of the 15 trapped miners and also spotted several skeletons in the flooded rat-hole coal mines in Meghalaya East Jaintia Hills district, weeks after a multi-agency search operation was launched to rescue them, officials and sources said Thursday.

The Naval personnel spotted the decomposed body of one of the miners about 200 ft along the horizontally dug small hole and managed to pull it about half way to the bottom of the shaft, operation spokesperson R Susngi told PTI.

But the body, which is yet to be identified, could not be extracted out of the shaft due to apprehension that further moving it could result in its disintegration.

As the operation continued on the 36th day, sources said the Navy divers on Thursday also spotted through a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) a number of skeletons inside one of the rat-hole mines and are waiting for the state administration’s directive on the future course of action. They said it was not clear if the skeletons were of the missing miners.

Navy Spokesperson Capt DK Sharma said in New Delhi that the Navy divers detected the body using an ROV at a depth of approximately 160 ft to 210 ft inside the rat hole mine on Wednesday night.

A team of doctors visited the spot to advise rescuers on how to bring the decomposed body safely out of the main shaft. They suggested the rescuers not to further move the body or it will disintegrate, officials said.

The body has been pulled up to the ‘mouth’ of the mine and is being retrieved under the supervision of a team of doctors, Sharma said.

The 15 miners were trapped in an illegal rat-hole coal mine in Lumthari village of East Jaintia Hills district since 13 December after water from a nearby river gushed in. The rescue efforts picked up days later when several agencies were roped in as the rescuers were struggling to pump out water from the the mines.

“Our divers are trying by hit and trial in uncharted mines. We’ve established that the miners were in the area. It has been a very complicated operation. We will continue our operation,” Capt Sharma said.

On skeletons being seen by the Navy team, the sources said the water inside the mines has high sulphur content which can decompose the bodies very fast.

“Skeletons were seen by the ROV. We do not know whether the skeletons are the of trapped miners. Forensics experts are expected to tell the rescuers about the next step,” said a source.

The operation to search and rescue the trapped miners remained India’s longest and an arduous one involving several national agencies including the Indian Navy, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Air Force The Navy divers had joined the search operation on 30 December.

The Deputy Commissioner has asked the family members of the miners from nearby Lumthari village and from Assam’s Chirang district to identify the body.

After the process of identification through the video prepared by the Navy divers of the decomposed body, efforts would be made Friday to bring it out of the shaft under supervision of the doctors, the sources said.

The Supreme Court on 3 January expressed strong dissatisfaction over the rescue efforts to trace the trapped miners and told the state government to bring them out dead or alive.

In the Khloo-Ryngksan area, where the mine is located on the western side of a small hillock, the Lytein river criss-crosses the valley for over 2 km.

Deputy Commissioner of East Jaintia Hills F M Dopth said the area has at least 80-100 flooded and abandoned mines.

Meanwhile, de-watering in the nearby abandoned mines continued on Thursday with nearly 50 lakh litres of water pumped out, Susngi said.

Coal India Ltd and Odisha Fire Service ran their pumps for nearby 20 hours even as the Chennai-based team from Plenys operated their ROV besides carrying out sonar detection of the shaft and found more rat holes.