Diver says huge pits in river turn fatal for those venturing in

Stephen has seen death from close quarters. Thanks to his diving skills, he has been called in to fish out dead bodies at accidents sites across the district.

Such is his skills that this resident of Chelamattom was roped in by the Perumbavoor police when four Malayattoor pilgrims plunged into the depths of the Periyar under the bridge at Kalady on Friday.

By the time he reached the spot, a six-member team of fire and rescue personnel from the Angamaly unit led by Assistant Fire Officer T.B. Ramakrishnan had already recovered one body. Stephen soon got into his familiar terrain of under-water. Though some local residents were also assisting the fire and rescue personnel, they didn’t possess the expertise and experience to go into depths in excess of 20 feet. He was instrumental in the fire force recovering the remaining bodies in less than 30 minutes.

Stephen claims that he has recovered about 25 bodies and rescued two persons over the years from varied water terrains ranging from stone quarries to huge pits in rivers formed by indiscriminate sand mining. “It is common for devotees of Sreekrishna to lose their gold ornaments while offering bali in the river. I must have so far recovered gold ornaments worth about Rs. 10 lakh,” claimed Mr. Stephen with pride.

The Fire and Rescue Department also did a commendable job starting with covering the 9 km stretch between the Angamaly fire station and the accident spot in less than six minutes instead of the standard time of nine minutes to cover a similar distance.

Equipped with lifebuoys, life jackets and rope, they immediately got down to their job. It took just about 20 minutes for them to fish out the first body about 30 metres west of the pillars of the bridge.

“We had mobilised scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) set and our men trained in underwater driving were deployed in various stations despite it being a holiday. But the mission was accomplished and they were asked to return midway through,” said Mr. Ramakrishnan.

Though the water seems shallow and innocuous, it hides deep pits not far away from the banks that could turn watery graves for the unsuspecting. While Mr. Stephen attributed the formation of pits to washing away of sand in strong water currents during the monsoon, Mr. Ramakrishnan had no doubt that indiscriminate sand mining led to such formations.

Mr. Ramakrishnan said that similar tragedies could be averted if a warning board was placed on the banks considering their strategic location along the Malayattoor pilgrimage route. He was spot on.

Just an hour after the bodies were recovered, a group of four youngsters from Mundakkayam returning after completing the Malayattoor pilgrimage could be seen going down the steep path to the banks to take a bath and they had no idea that the inviting waters had just claimed four lives.

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