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“Heard by Kali”: Aussie hero helps rescue 41 workers from Indian tunnel collapse

People gathered around the tunnel erupted in joy and shouted "Bharat Mata ki Jai" ("Long live mother India").

All 41 workers trapped since 12 November have been rescued from a tunnel in Uttarakhand, India.

Chardham all-weather road or Silkyara Bend–Barkot tunnel is being built to improve access to four sacred Hindu pilgrimage points.

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People gathered around the tunnel erupted in joy and shouted “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (“Long live mother India”).

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The workers survived on food and oxygen supplied through two narrow steel pipes.

Rescuers resorted to manual digging after the drilling machine broke down while drilling horizontally from the front.

Then the final rescue followed the laying of a final section of pipe which allowed the men to be pulled out one by one with ambulances gathered at the tunnel’s entrance awaiting casualties.

The tunnel workers had to crawl through 57 metres of steel pipe which was driven through tonnes of earth, concrete and rubble blocking their escape.

In all 22 agencies worked day and night for the rescue mission. These included: NDRF, BRO, Indian Army, Indian Air Force, NHIDCL, SJVNL, THFCL, RVNL, ONGC, Coal India, and many others.

All this was done under the expert supervision of Australian tunneling expert Arnold Dix who provided all the technical support on the ground.

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Prof. Dix said in a post:

“It is my honour to serve with my Indian friends and colleagues in our mission to bring 41 men safely home. If you could spare us a kind thought or a prayer to your God it would be much appreciated by our team – and perhaps heard by Kali.”

Prof. Dix heads the Geneva-based International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (Geneva). He is well-known for taking legal, environmental, political, and ethical risks related to underground construction.

He has a Science and Law Degree from Monash University and regularly provides technical and regulatory solutions to complex and mission-critical challenges in underground spaces.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has tweeted: “Proud that Australian Professor Arnold Dix played a role on the ground.”

Australian High Commissioner to India Philip Green commended Prof. Dix’s expert inputs which led to the safe extraction of all the trapped workers.

Indian High Commissioner to Australia, Manpreet Vohra, tweeted: “Thank you, Professor Dix. Thank you Australia.”

Social media users have also lauded the hero Australian professor who was earlier seen joining a priest at the rescue site and praying for the safe evacuation of the workers.

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While giving an update on the rescue operation, Prof. Dix observed:

“For me, it is like an ancient story…The Mountain is controlling everything. It is protecting those 41 people like a mother and not harming them… They’re not injured, they are completely safe inside the tunnel… It’s the will of the mountain which will decide when and from which door those people come out.”

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the rescue had made “everyone emotional”.

He said in a statement.

“I want to say to the friends who were trapped in the tunnel that your courage and patience is inspiring everyone. I wish you all well and good health. It is a matter of great satisfaction that after a long wait these friends of ours will now meet their loved ones. The patience and courage that their families have shown in this challenging time cannot be appreciated enough.”

Nitin Gadkari, India’s Minister of Road Transport and Highways, thanked everyone involved in the rescue operations.

In a video message posted on X, he said:

“I am very happy that all the 41 trapped workers have come out and their lives have been saved… this was a well-coordinated effort by multiple agencies, marking one of the most significant rescue operations in recent years”.

The rescued workers underwent initial medical check-ups and were taken in ambulances to a hospital for further examination.

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has been instructed to audit 29 other tunnels being built across the country.

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