Victim Sonaram Kisku's body is wheeled away from Turamdih Hospital to MGM morgue in Dimna, Jamshedpur, on Sunday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
Jamshedpur, May 29: Thirty-year-old Samant Hembrom, UCIL additional superintendent (mechanical), won't forget the gush of sludge that fell almost on him at lightning speed around 11am yesterday, the ensuing screams and the sudden silence when he and 19 others were trapped 255 metres deep underground at Turamdih mines, East Singhbhum, of Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL).
Though Samant is recovering at Tata Main Hospital (TMH) in Jamshedpur, two more bodies were recovered from the slush and rubble of yesterday's Turamdih mine mishap in Sundarnagar, one late last night and another early this morning, taking the toll of casualties to three.
The bodies of contract worker Sonaram Kisku (24) and UCIL safety officer Surya Kant Singh (42) were recovered from the mines around 11.30pm last night and 6.30am today. Milan Karmakar (35), UCIL general foreman, was the first victim to be declared dead at TMH last afternoon, where he had been rushed in a critical state from the two-acre mines site at 12.30pm, some 90 minutes after cave-in.
This morning, director of mines safety, Chaibasa, Satish Kumar, sealed the mines for safety inspection after Singh's body was recovered.
Of the 20 persons who went inside the mines yesterday, according to unconfirmed sources, 11 were contract workers and nine UCIL employees.
Eight managed to get out of the hellhole in time, 12 stayed inside. Among those trapped, Karmakar, Kisku and Singh did not come out alive.
Among those injured, Sugru Hembrom and Matku Ho were released yesterday from TMH after first-aid.
Samant, along with Mangal Bhagat, Upender Singh, Satyender Singh, B.M. Rana, Jolar Ho and Krishna Kumar Kisku, are admitted to TMH but their condition is learnt to be stable.
Samant, who spoke to The Telegraph today, said the first-ever cave-in at Turamdih mines, which was commissioned in 2003, occurred yesterday morning.
"The mining wall collapsed and a deluge of sludge fell on us when we were 255 metres underground," he said.
Since 9.30am yesterday, an UCIL inspection team, including Samant, Singh and Karmakar, had been looking for leakage at the crust of the mine while contract workers were busy removing uranium ore on a loader for a nearby dumping site.
Initially, there was no sign of leakage, but slowly the crust on the left side of the mining point started getting wet. Within minutes the leakage intensified rapidly, alarming the inspection team. Before they could decide what to do, there was a blast and sludge started gushing in from one of the mining points, sweeping away the 20 men inside.
Samant, who was among those fortunate enough to have escaped the direct onslaught of the landslide, managed to climb about a metre, fighting "waist-high sludge", and found a rope to rescue Krishna Kumar Kisku.
He and Krishna then threw the same rope to rescue four others. Samant, in fact, did not take the first rescue cage-lift that arrived 45 minutes after the cave-in, but waited inside the depths of the mines till 2pm to do what he could to try and rescue his colleagues.
"I feel terrible for the three people who lost their lives. Two were my colleagues," said Samant from his TMH bed today, disclaiming any credit for his heroism underground.
Sanjiv Ranjan, manager (personnel) Turamdih mines, UCIL, confirmed two officials and one contract worker were killed in the mishap and nine others injured.
"All the injured are out of danger," Ranjan said. "No one is inside. We have a system of counting mining workers and officials when they go inside the mines. The director of mines safety, Chaibasa, who had been camping at the mishap site since last evening, sealed the mines today. The mines will get operational after getting a clearance certificate from the DMS," he added.
Turamdih mines is one of the seven UCIL mines, the others being Mahuldih, Bhatin, Narwah, Jadugora, Bagjata and Banduhurang. Banduhurang is an open-cast mine while the rest are underground. Except Jadugora mines, all others function.
UCIL general manager (personnel and industrial relations) C.H. Sharma had been to Tata Main Hospital this afternoon when he talked to Mili Karmakar and Abha Singh, the bereaved widows of Milan Karmakar and Surya Kant Singh, respectively, and told them they would get compensation according to norms of the UCIL, which functions under the department of atomic energy. The UCIL management has also decided to give the next of kin of Sonaram Kisku, employed under M/s AK Enterprises, compensation as per government rules.
In 2012, a mishap had taken place at Turamdih mines when a contract worker was accidentally run over by a loader.