First body pulled from India mine after 6 weeks – official

NEW DELHI, India – Indian search teams recovered the body of a missing "rat-hole" miner Thursday, January 24, the first such breakthrough 6 weeks after 15 men were buried inside the illegal coal pit in the country's northeast.

The corpse was located last week in Meghalaya state where rescuers had been using a remote-controlled vehicle and expert divers to navigate deep inside the flooded mine shaft.

"The body was retrieved in a joint operation by the Indian Navy and the NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) at 1300 hours (IST) today," rescue official S.K. Singh told Agence France-Presse from the site.

"The body has been handed over to a team of doctors. We will do our best and continue with our work."

Rescuers had struggled earlier to retrieve the badly decomposed corpse, despite being equipped with modern technology.

Six rescuers entered the mine shaft Thursday in teams of two, using inflatable boats and plastic body bags to retrieve the corpse, local media said.

The miners were trapped on December 13 after water from a river gushed into the narrow pit.

Indian authorities were criticized for being slow to respond to the emergency, prompting the country's top court to urge them to step up rescue efforts.

Rat-hole mines are deep vertical shafts dug mostly into hillsides that branch out into narrow tunnels to reach and retrieve coal and other minerals.

A federal environment court banned wildcat mining in Meghalaya in 2014 after local communities complained it was polluting water sources and putting lives at risk.

But the practice continues, with mine owners and the state government challenging the ban at India's Supreme Court.

At least 15 miners were killed after they were trapped in a flooded rat hole mine in Meghalaya in 2012. Their bodies were never recovered. – Rappler.com