Old image falsely linked to India road tunnel collapse

  • Published on December 4, 2023 at 10:15
  • Updated on December 7, 2023 at 13:26
  • 3 min read
  • By Devesh MISHRA, AFP India
Forty-one Indian workers were trapped for 17 days inside a collapsed Himalayan road tunnel they were building before being rescued on November 28. An image circulating online of an old man wearing a hard hat, however, does not show one of the workers according to officials who were involved in rescue efforts. The picture has circulated on social media since at least May 2019.

"What is the point of reaching the moon if we can't rescue our people trapped in a tunnel for the last 15 days," reads a November 26 post on X, formerly Twitter, referring to India's historic lunar mission.

"We are never pre-prepared for such things. #UttarakhandTunnelRescue #UttarakhandTunnel," it adds.

The post features a photo that appears to show a frail man wearing a hard hat with a headlamp on it.

A road tunnel in Silkyara town in the hilly northern Indian state of Uttarakhand collapsed on November 12, trapping 41 workers inside.

Rescue operations were hit by repeated setbacks, including fears of further debris falling and the repeated breakdown of drilling machines snarled up by hitting metal girders trapped in the rubble.

The workers were seen alive for the first time peering into the lens of an endoscopic camera sent by rescuers down a thin pipe through which air, food, water and electricity were delivered.

They were all rescued on November 28.

Screenshot of the false post, taken on November 28, 2023

The picture of the old man was shared alongside a similar claim elsewhere on X, as well as on Facebook here, here and here.

Comments in response to the posts indicate some people believed the image shows one of the trapped workers.

"At least have mercy on this elderly labourer and stop making statements and take concrete steps to save the labourers," one wrote.

Another said: "If a minister had been trapped inside this tunnel, he would have come out in a day, but the life of this old labourer is worth nothing."

'No such worker'

However, Colonel Deepak Patil, an official from the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited who led the rescue efforts, told AFP on November 28: "We haven't released any such image of any worker. This is completely false."

Uttarakhand police also refuted the claim on its official Facebook page on November 28, 2023 (archived link).

Its Hindi-language statement featuring the same image of the man but with his face blurred said: "No such labourer is trapped in the Silkyara Tunnel. Please do not spread misinformation by sharing this. Strict legal action will be taken against those spreading such misleading news. #UttarakhandPolice."

A video of the workers inside the collapsed tunnel released by India's State Disaster Response Force does not show the same man (archived link).

Neither is the man shown in a later video published by AFP on November 29 showing the rescued workers being greeted by Indian officials (archived link).

A reverse image search on Google, followed by keyword searches found the same photo has been circulating on social media at least four years before the Silkyara tunnel incident.

It was uploaded on a Persian-language Facebook post on May 2, 2019. The same picture had also been shared on Facebook in 2020, 2022 and in April 2023 months before the tunnel collapse (archived links here, here, here and here).

AFP could not independently verify the identity of the man in the photo or its location.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo shared in false posts (left) and the one shared on Facebook in 2019 (right):

Screenshot comparison of the image in the false posts (left) and the 2019 Facebook post (right)
December 7, 2023 Story updated to fix header image.

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