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Silkyara Tunnel Impasse – Dig Deep for an Out-of-the-Box Breakthrough

Impasse, an opportunity and bane to find the right keys to unlock the deadlocks. When a situation seems hopeless, hope diminishes and miracle seems the only hope, Endurance and Persistence are the keys to unravelling beneath the surface for a burst of sunshine at the end of a dark tunnel.

“YAHOO”– An acronym most often used to say ‘You Always Have Other options’ – perfectly fits in the most incredible rescue operations ever in India. Many good and workable solutions (which could not be the actual final solution) explored by the rescue team members led to generating an unconventional idea that became a game changer and a successful solution to address the problem.  

India, on 28th November, 2023 evening witnessed one of its biggest rescue operations ever. The operation set free 41 lives trapped for 17 days in the 4.5 K.M. Silkyara-Dandalgaon Tunnel (State of Uttrakhand, India) collapsed with 57 meters of Debris. It took 397 and a half hours for 250 + strong rescue team members to get to the trapped workers and evacuate them safely.     

Open-ended/Problem-Solving Questions before the Multi-Agencies Operation Team Members were:

  1. What would be the ideal way to rescue the trapped lives?
  2. What would work as the safest way to bring back alive 41 lives?
  3. How to ensure the safety of the rescue team workers?
  4. Identifying challenges and risks that could be faced during the operations.
  5. How to address obstacles that could be faced during the execution of plausible solutions?
  6. How to model solutions that do not cause further damage?
  7. When and where to begin from?
  8. Need of experts to be called in for safer execution of solutions?
  9. How to coordinate and collaborate with each team member of the rescue team outside and inside?
  10. What type of devices, equipment, machines and techniques are to be engaged?
  11. How to first provide basic needs to keep 41 lives alive during the whole process?
  12. How to keep the trapped workers motivated?

The team began by inventing options that would be mutually beneficial to both – the trapped lives and the rescuers.

Painstaking 17 days ordeal of rescue operation started from Day 1 Option 1.

Shortcreting of the loose structures and excavation of the debris. However, the first option deployed to address the issue had to be stopped due to the falling of debris, which injured two workers.

Day 2 – Simultaneously 4-inch supply lifeline was established to provide dry ration and maintain oxygen supply to those who were to be kept motivated to participate in the rescue operation steps.

Day 3 Option 2 deployed i.e. drilling with a locally sourced auger machine to create escape passage. However, drilling work was halted due to the slow performance of the auger machine.

Day 5 Option 3 –Airlifted Advanced American Auger Machine starts drilling 900mm pipes into the rubbles. Drilling was suspended as a challenge of further collapse triggered due to cracking sounds.


Day 7 – The situation was again reviewed by the team members, and “BRAINSTORM TOGETHER FOR ALTERNATE, DIFFERENT AND SIMULTANEOUS POSSIBILITIES BASED ON OBJECTIVE CRITERIA TO FIND A FAIR SOLUTION AND DERTERMINE A FAIR OUTCOME. It was jointly decided to pursue multiple options simultaneously which included vertical drilling, creating escape channels and calling a tunnel expert from Australia, Mr. Arnold Dix.

Day 9- Additional supply lifeline with 6-inch pipe established.

Day 10- First visuals of trapped workers emerge via an endoscopic camera pushed through the pipe.

Day 11-14 – The significant drilling of pushing escape passage pipes of approximately 46 meters through the advanced auger machine met a hard metal obstacle, workers manually deployed to remove debris to make way for the auger machine, which again hit another hard object, which eventually broke down the machine beyond repair.

 Day 15- Army Personnel from the Madras Sappers Regiment were brought in to remove auger blades entangled in the rubble.

Interestingly as rescuers from outside mounted a massive operation to evacuate those trapped inside the tunnel, none of the 41 workers crumbled under the circumstances or refused to contribute to the successful execution of the instructions from the rescue teams outside the tunnel. At no point in time, did the trapped workers show signs of being mentally or physically drained out and in fact, they demonstrated determination and discipline, ensuring all the tasks assigned to them by the rescue team were accomplished.

Despite all the workable options, Day 15 saw frustration, pain, dejection, helplessness and hopes fast diminishing amidst consecutive setbacks and challenges caused by the density of Himalayan rocks, the danger of another collapse, and the breaking of a drill.image.png


Pusshp Gupta

Pusshp Gupta is a law graduate from the most prestigious law school of India, Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi and admitted into the Bar in 1994. She did LLM in Commercial Laws. A Mediator at Hon'ble Supreme Court of India, High Court of Delhi and at District Court of… MORE >

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