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Uttarakhand tunnel rescue op: How IAF overcame hurdles to drop 27.5 tonnes of critical equipment in Dharasu

Indian Air Force successfully executes challenging missions to drop critical rescue equipment in Uttarakhand's tunnel rescue operation, overcoming obstacles at the Dharasu advanced landing ground, aiding the ongoing efforts to rescue 40 trapped workers.

Uttarakhand tunnel rescue op: How IAF overcame hurdles to drop 27.5 tonnes of critical equipment in Dharasu snt
First Published Nov 17, 2023, 8:45 PM IST

New Delhi: Despite facing numerous challenges, including low visibility, a heavyweight landing at a short and narrow airstrip, and offloading in a constricted space, the Indian Air Force successfully carried out three missions to assist the ongoing tunnel rescue operation at Dharasu, Uttarakhand. Using its special operation platform, the C-130J Super Hercules, the IAF has dropped 27.5 tonnes of critical rescue equipment into the Dharasu short airstrip so far.

Also read: Uttarakhand tunnel tragedy enters day 6: Escape plan sees progress overnight but debris halts drilling

The Indian Air Force was pressed in after the rescue operations were halted due to the failure of the equipment which was earlier utilised to create a passage for 40 trapped workers in a tunnel in Uttarkashi. For the last five days, the Indian Army, civil administration, and the Border Road Organisation have been working tirelessly, day and night, to rescue the trapped workers.

Situated 30 km from the rescue site in Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand, the Dharasu advanced landing ground (ALG) was cleared in a short period catering for the operation of a large platform like C-130J aircraft. 

Sources in the Indian Air Force said, "Initial operationalisation involved a quick vegetation clearance which could have been detrimental for the aircraft operations."

"The entire operation was executed within less than five hours," an official said.

It should be noted that Dharasu ALG is a short and narrow airstrip of 3,600 feet at an elevation of 3,000 feet AMSL.

A source said that it was a time-critical mission which demanded swift action to deliver the equipment as close as possible to the rescue location. “We decided to deploy special operation aircraft C-130J.”

Sources further said that two C-130J aircraft were launched to Agra and Palam to assess the equipment meant to be carried. Both the aircraft were ready for quick launch as soon as the airstrip was declared fit for carrying out operations.

During an earlier feasibility trial, sources added that the Dharasu ALG was made unfit for routine operations by C-130J aircraft. According to IAF officials, a fine professional call was required to operationalise the advanced landing ground for this operation keeping in mind the criticality of the mission. 

"The helicopter operation was planned with a C-130J pilot onboard to assess obstructions and runway condition," a source revealed.

"Multiple approaches were flown by the helicopter to ensure that the most suitable call is taken before clearing the ALG for such critical operations," the source added. "The entire mission hinged upon two critical aspects viz AL fitness and success of operation."

The ALG was cleared in a shorter period. 

Also read: Uttarakhand tunnel tragedy: Experts explain rescue op challenges; call for rethinking Himalayan development

The offloading of critical material at such remote places was a huge challenge for operations as the Dharasu ALG did not have the specialised equipment required for offloading from C130J aircraft.

"In one of the cargo offloading, a mud ramp was created locally to avoid delay in subsequent rescue operations," an official said. 

The official added that the success of the operation was a result of pinpoint execution. 

The 40 trapped labourers hail from Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Uttarakhand, and Assam. 

Construction of the 4.5 km long tunnel is part of the Char Dham Road project and will span from Silkyara to Dandalgaon on the Yamunotri National Highway. 

Once completed, it is expected to significantly shorten the distance from Uttarkashi to Yamunotri by approximately 26 kilometers.

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