RESCUE DISASTER: River rescue mission goes awry, 3 dead – Raft overturns in swirling Teesta, six swim to safety – Amateurish over-enthusiastic crowding & no respect for ‘Sacred & Mighty’ Teesta ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Kalimpong, May 20: Three persons drowned and one was missing when a raft carrying 11 men on a search-and-rescue mission was sucked into a whirlpool in the swirling white waters of the Teesta this morning.
The lone river guide in the raft, Roshan Rai, was instrumental in saving the lives of the other six who managed to reach dry ground. Most of the youths on the raft that went down at 27th Mile near Rambi police outpost, about 25km from here, were related to each other. The six managed to escape with minor injuries.
The condition of one of them, Saran Chhetri, who is the president of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s Teesta unit, was initially thought to be serious. He is now doing fine at the Kalimpong subdivisional hospital.
The dead have been identified as Gaurav Chhetri, 20, Pranesh Chhetri, 23, and Balkumar Chhetri. The missing person is Tika Pradhan. All of them were residents of Teesta Bazaar.
“The body of Pranesh was recovered from near 27th Mile, while that of Gaurav and Balkumar were found at Kalijhora (about 15km downstream),” said a police officer.
Suren Pradhan, one of the two men admitted to the Kalimpong hospital, said his team was on a search mission, looking for the body of Ganesh Chhetri, Saran’s elder brother, who is believed to have drowned in the river six days back.
“When we were almost near the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation dam site at 27th Mile, the rapids of the river suddenly started getting taller, and we got sucked into what I think was a whirlpool. I struggled to swim to safety. My lifejacket saved me,” Suren said. However, the whirlpool was so vicious and the current of the river so strong that the lifejackets were of little help to the three dead and the missing man. “Not everybody in the raft knew swimming. Had the river guide not kept his composure and assisted others to swim ashore, more lives could have been lost,” said Sukbir Lama, the chief of the Action Adventure and Rescue Group based in Teesta Bazar.
Lama and other river guides were assisting the police in the search operation following today’s incident. “The swollen water of the Teesta is making our task difficult. Actually, given the rain in the last few days and the resultant rise in the water level, it was not advisable to have taken to the river today,” said a river guide.
The guide said that overturning of rafts, which are allowed to carry 12 passengers in one trip, is frequent. “During such an event the rafters cling on to the ropes on the side of the raft and keep afloat with the help of their lifejackets while the current carries them. The guides on board set the raft right side up so that everyone can clamber aboard and resume the white water adventure sport. However, it was unfortunate that most of those on board today did not know how to swim and panicked,” the guide said.
The Chhetri family has been scouting the river ever since the disappearance of Ganesh, who was last seen on the riverbanks near Teesta Bazaar.
Asked if any rule has been flouted by not informing the police about the search mission, a senior administrative officer said: “Anybody can search for his or her family members. There is nothing wrong in that. The district magistrate has been informed about the accident.”
This is the second rafting accident in the Teesta in nearly a year. One June 1 last year, Rashila Thakkar, a 37-year-old tourist from Mumbai, had drowned after a raft capsized near Chitrey, about 5km upstream from 27 Mile, the site of today’s accident.
Following last year’s incident, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council had suspended rafting in the river for some time. However, the suspension was lifted after a sustained campaign launched by the 20-odd river rafting units operating from Teesta Bazaar and Melli.
The rafting season generally continues up to mid or end-June depending on the arrival of the monsoon.
MEANWHILE IN AN EARLIER REPORT
Three bodies recovered, 8 missing after boat capsizes – when will they ever learn, checked Teesta’s history ?!!
Siliguri, May 20 (IANS) Bodies of three people were recovered Thursday but eight others were missing after a rafting boat capsized in the river Teesta in Kalimpong sub-division of West Bengal’s Darjeeling district.
Additional Superintendent of Police J. Dorji told reporters that the accident occurred at the 27 Mile area around noon. All eleven members of the rafting party drowned.
“Three bodies have been recovered so far. Eight people are still missing. The water level in the river had increased due to heavy rain,” Dorji said.
All the victims were locals. Rescue operations were on.