32 drown as boat topples in Thekkady reservoir

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Accident site: Rescue efforts under way, as the toppled boat lies half-submerged in the Thekkady reservoir.
Accident site: Rescue efforts under way, as the toppled boat lies half-submerged in the Thekkady reservoir.

Staff Reporter

KTDC’s boat was carrying tourists, mostly from Karnataka

THEKKADY: Around 32 tourists on board a double-decker boat operated by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) were killed when it capsized in one of the deepest zones of the Mullaperiyar reservoir in Idukki district around 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Most of the victims are women and a substantial number of them are from outside Kerala. The toll could be higher, informed sources indicated.

The popular sight-seeing boat trip was one of many such trips operated by the KTDC each day in the reservoir.

A rescue team had recovered 26 bodies till 8 p.m. Two persons were rescued alive. The rescue operation was continuing late into the night. Four tourists who were rescued in a critical condition died later. There were five foreign tourists, of whom two died. The bodies identified late in the night included those from Tamil Nadu, Delhi and West Bengal as well.

A total of 82 persons including crew members were travelling in the boat, named ‘Jala Kanyaka’; 50 or more of them belonged to one group from Karnataka. The boat left the landing point around 4 p.m. and capsized 7 km away.

Those from Karnataka had come in a tourist bus to Thekkady as part of a tour of Kerala. Preliminary investigation revealed that the accident took place when a large group of tourists on the upper deck rushed to one side of the boat to see animals spotted on the forest fringes. In the sudden movement, the boat overturned. All the 82 people in the boat were thrown into the water.

Twenty persons, who were mostly on the upper deck of the boat, were rescued by boats sent in by the KTDC, the Forest Department and the Tamil Nadu Public Works Department.

The rescue operations were hampered by the spreading darkness and the distance of the accident spot from the boat landing centre. The area where the boat capsized was about 100 feet deep and the shore had wild animals such as elephants. The reservoir lies within the confines of the 777-sq km Periyar Tiger Reserve.

The State government took measures at the highest levels, while the Union government asked the defence establishments in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram to launch rescue measures. The Navy sent a batch of divers from Kochi to Thekkady by road after a Navy helicopter sent to locate the victims returned due to bad weather.

Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and Water Resources Minister N.K. Premachandran reached Thekkady late in the night.

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