Cheers greeted a group of 41 workers as they were successfully removed from a collapsed tunnel under the Himalayas on Tuesday, the climax of a 17-day rescue operation to drill through rock and debris.
It took weeks to bore an escape route for the workers through the mountain, with the last two meters drilled by hand before the rescued men eventually emerged.
Video footage from the scene showed Pushkar Singh Dhami, chief minister of Uttarakhand state meeting the workers, who appeared to be in good health, as they emerged from the tunnel amid jubilant scenes.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the successful rescue “is making everyone emotional,” in a statement on X. “I want to tell the men who were trapped in the tunnel that your bravery and patience are inspiring everyone,” he wrote. “I also salute the spirit of all the people associated with this rescue operation. Their bravery and determination have granted a new life to our labourer brothers. Everyone involved in this mission has set an amazing example of humanity and teamwork,” added Modi.
The men had been trapped since Nov. 12 when the part of the tunnel they were helping to construct in India’s northern Uttarakhand state gave way, blocking their only exit with more than 60 meters (200 feet) of broken rock, concrete and twisted metal.
The first workers were removed following a series of agonizing setbacks, during which rescue efforts were halted when the heavy machinery used to drill through the debris broke down, forcing workers to partially dig by hand and adopt other riskier methods to bring them to safety.
Engineers had previously attempted to excavate the debris in the exit shaft using heavy machinery but were forced to abandon efforts late on Friday after the powerful US-made drill they were using broke down just meters from the trapped men.
Rescuers were also simultaneously drilling downward through the unstable mountain terrain as a backup way to reach the trapped men. But in the end, the initial plan proved successful.
With the drilling completed, rescuers then pushed a large pipe through the last part of the exit shaft for the men to be brought to safety.
The labourers — all migrant workers from some of India’s poorest states — have been receiving food, water and oxygen through a 53-meter (173-foot) pipe that has been inserted through the debris and authorities say they remain in good health.
Doctors on site have kept in regular contact with the men inside, giving them tips on how to remain positive and calm. Their families have been gathering at the tunnel exit each day to pray for their safe return.