Forest guard K.P. Ayyappan says the danger spot in Periyar had been accident-free for nearly five years

It was the deepest and dangerous spot of Periyar. But grey-haired K.P. Ayyappan and his fellow forest security guard at Mulamkuzhi Vana Samrakshana Samithi A.K. Achuthan were the first to plunge headlong into the water to help the NCC cadets who fell into the waters on Wednesday afternoon.

“I was on the eastern end of the sand ghat and saw a cadet approaching the danger area. I realised the danger and rushed towards the spot. By the time I jumped into the water one had already fallen and another had jumped in,” Ayyappan recollected.

He said that of late the forest guards had been very alert and did not allow anyone near the danger zone. “That’s why the spot has been accident-free for the last almost five years,” said Ayyappan.

Achuthan found fault with the officers accompanying the cadets. “Had they been alert, the cadets would not have given them a slip and the tragedy could have been avoided. We blew the whistle and shouted to alert them. Maybe they didn’t understand our language,” he said.

The ill-fated batch was the third from the NCC trekking camp to visit the spot. “On the first day a few cadets had ventured towards the water and were promptly punished by the accompanying officer,” said Achuthan.

“A person on a country boat near the area said more were trapped under the creek. I found two of them, holding each other in an embrace, in a creek between rocks,” said Lijin, a local resident, who recovered the remaining two bodies.

Trek manager Commodore T.P. Jaison Thomas ruled out carelessness on the part of the accompanying officers. “The cadets were given a detailed briefing before the start of the camp and today’s trekking expedition,” he said. The camp, which was scheduled till December 30, has now come to an end with the organisers choosing not to undertake any more trekking.

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