Uttarkashi tunnel collapse | IAF airlifts 27.5 tonnes of critical equipment for Uttarakhand rescue efforts

Despite Dharasu ALG being unfit for this category of aircraft, IAF operationalised it in short notice keeping in view the gravity of the situation

November 17, 2023 10:57 pm | Updated November 18, 2023 07:48 am IST - NEW DELHI

27.5 tonnes of critical equipment being airlifted by an IAF C-17 from Indore to Dehradun for the tunnel rescue operation in Dharasu, Uttarakhand.

27.5 tonnes of critical equipment being airlifted by an IAF C-17 from Indore to Dehradun for the tunnel rescue operation in Dharasu, Uttarakhand. | Photo Credit: PTI

In a swift, five hour operation, the Indian Air Force (IAF) activated the Dharasu Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) in Chinyalisaur about 30 km from the rescue site for operating two C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft to fly in time-critical equipment to the closest location possible for the ongoing rescue efforts near Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand. The operation was carried out on November 15.

Dharasu ALG located at Chinyalisaur, was identified as the nearest possible location for the expeditious operation. It is a short and narrow airstrip of 3,600 feet situated at an elevation of 3000 ft. The runway was originally declared unfit for the C-130J class of aircraft but given the criticality of the mission it was decided to operationalise the ALG for this operation, officials said.

“The rescue operations were halted due to failure of the equipment which was earlier utilised to create a passage. The time critical mission demanded a swift action to deliver the equipment as close as possible to the rescue location,” an IAF source said.

“IAF undertook three missions with C-130 transport aircraft and airlifted 27.5 tonnes of critical rescue equipment into this short airstrip,” the source added.

An IAF helicopter was launched prior to the final mission to ascertain the feasibility of operations and simultaneously, two C-130J aircraft were launched to Agra and Palam to assess the equipment meant to be carried, the source explained. “The helicopter operation was planned with C-130J pilot onboard to assess obstructions and runway condition. 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 said. 

The ALG was cleared in a short period catering for operation of a large platform and both the aircraft were ready for quick launch as soon as the ALG was declared fit for operations. Initial operationalisation involved a quick vegetation clearance which could have been detrimental for the aircraft operations, the source stated. 

“The mission was undertaken amid the challenges of reduced visibility conditions during departure, heavy weight landing at short and narrow airstrip and offloading in constricted space,” the source said while elaborating on the challenges involved. 

The offloading of critical materials at such remote places was itself a huge challenge for operations. Dharasu ALG did not have specialised equipment required for offloading from C130J aircraft, the source said. In one of the cargo offloading, a mud ramp was created locally to avoid delay in subsequent rescue operations, the source stated adding that success of the operation was a result of pin point execution. “The flying operations needed calculated approach and adequate risk mitigation to undertake this non-routine critical operation,” the source said.

Rescue efforts have been on after an under construction road tunnel caved in trapping 40 workers, who are stuck in a 2 km stretch of the tunnel since Sunday evening. Oxygen is being supplied and food sent in through narrow tubes while rescue efforts continue.

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