The men have been trapped since November 12 when the part of 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 breakthrough follows 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.
Uttarakhand government’s executive engineer Avinash Kumar Saini told CNN that drilling had finally been completed after 17 days.
Rescuers were also simultaneously drilling downward through the unstable mountain terrain as a back up 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 work of laying pipes in the tunnel to take out the workers has been completed. Soon all the labor brothers will be taken out,” Pushkar Singh Dhami, Chief Minister Uttarakhand, wrote on X.
State district information officer Kirti Panwar a struck an optimistic tone that the workers would soon be reunited with their families.