Hazari Behera, the 36-year-old assistant loco pilot who was helming the Coromandel Express, escaped from the jaws of death when his passenger train collided with a freight train in Odisha’s Balasore district on June 2.
Currently admitted in the privately-run AMRI hospital in Bhubaneswar, Mr. Behera is one of more than a thousand injured patients who have received care in 21 health facilities across Odisha.
The pilot’s family was distressed that local media has been running fake news about his alleged death. “Media doesn’t realise the toll that such false reports can take on the family of the injured. Especially when my husband is still weak and unable to sit straight,” Mr. Behera’s wife told The Hindu. He has a fracture in his left leg and multiple abrasions; though in a conscious state, he is still weak and disoriented.
His colleague, the Coromandel Express’ loco pilot G.N. Mohanty, is deemed to be critical and is in the Intensive Care Unit of the same hospital.
‘Pilot has no control’
Mr. Behera’s family pleaded with the media to respect their privacy, especially given that a few of the injured have allegedly blamed the loco pilot and his assistant for the collision.
A senior railway official told The Hindu that the loco pilot’s duties involve starting, stopping and accelerating the train. “There is no way that at a high speed of 128 kilometres per hour, that too in the dead of the night, the loco pilot would have noticed that it was going to collide with a goods train, especially when he had received a green signal to proceed on the main line,” the official said.
In an ideal situation, the signal is supposed to turn green simultaneously with the switching that ensures that the train runs on the right track. This operation is remotely controlled from the section office which includes the signalmen, section officers, section head and station master. “The loco pilot has no control over this,” the official said, adding that the firstperson eyewitness accounts of the loco pilot and his assistant loco pilot would be crucial to the inquiry.
Of the 1,116 patients received in hospitals, up to 172 were released after treatment, 390 were referred and another 495 are currently undergoing treatment in government facilities primarily in Balasore, Gopalpur, Soro, Bhadrak and Cuttack.
Of the 275 dead bodies that were removed from the accident site, nearly 140 lay in the mortuaries of different health facilities in Bhubaneswar, with at least 114 bodies lying at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in the city. “We are conducting DNA sampling of each body and then undertaking a process of embalming to later hand them over to the relatives. Our doctors are involved in this process around the clock,” AIIMS director Ashutosh Biswas told The Hindu.