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The remains of one of the 15 labourers who have been trapped in an illegal coal mine that collapsed in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district on December 13 was extracted on Thursday, a top rescue official confirmed to The Indian Express. An official statement on the same from the district administration of the East Jaintia Hills is awaited.

In a joint operation conducted by the Indian Navy and the National Disaster Response Force, the remains — now disintegrated according to officials — was pulled out of the main shaft of the mine at around 3pm. The personnel who entered the mine, packed the remains and brought it out.
The official spokesperson of the rescue operation R Susngi said the body was “fully intact” and that this was the same body which was earlier detected by the Navy. Another senior rescue official, however, said the face was “not recognisable instantly” and “completely disfigured”.

Last week, a dead body was detected inside the disaster-struck coal mine — at a depth of 160 feet and at a lateral distance of 210feet into the rat-hole tunnel — with the help of footage from a remote-controlled underwater vehicle operated by the Indian Navy.
The official said the body was recovered from over 183-feet air column and about 170-feet water column (total of about 355 feet vertically depth) in the main shaft and about 210-feet horizontal distance in the rat-hole tunnel.

Susngi said both inquest and post-mortem were conducted by authorities following which the body was taken to the Khliehriat community health centre for identification by families.

The body being “intact” is viewed as an achievement of the rescue personnel against the apprehensions of decay and disengagement as the Meghalaya government had told the Supreme Court. In a status report, the government said that as a consequence of efforts to pull the disintegrating body, “there are signs of decay, making the evacuation of the body difficult”.

“In the process of pulling the body, the skull, the left wrists and the leg from the knee level got disengaged. It is the considered opinion of the Naval team that if the body is pulled further, there will be total disintegrating of different parts, rendering the same virtually impossible to retrieve,” the report said.

The status report added that “presumably” the bodies of the at least 14 other miners are behind this disintegrating body which was detected on January 16.

Chief minister Conrad Sangma had also told the press last week that it did not “look like” that rescuers would be able to retrieve the body. He explained that it is not possible to retrieve the body because of two reasons — first, the ROV which had detected it cannot pull it out because the body is too heavy for it and that is difficult for rescue divers to enter the mine as the water level has not reduced despite intensive pumping. Secondly, Sangma added, the body was decomposing. “The body is soft. Every time they are trying to pull the body, some pieces are coming out,” he said.