Rafters in rescue battle in Teesta

Siliguri, June 27: In a daring rescue operation that would make the Baywatch action scenes look tame, a seven-member team of DGHC river guides, including a woman, braved the fast moving Teesta to rescue 200 people who were stranded after the bailey bridge collapsed on Saturday night.

The accident occurred around 5.30 pm and the Chitrey-based river rafting squad, about 12 km from the site, were on the spot by 6.30 pm along with their rafts and other equipment to launch their rescue operation in right earnest.

A little over four-and-half hours and, the rafters were back at their base, battered and bruised, but happy nonetheless after a job well done. But for their heroic efforts, the 200-odd people, including women, on the other side of the river would have had to spend nerve-wrecking hours in the chill of the night.

“Words would prove inadequate to thank the rafters and also the residents of Rambi. I have nothing but special words of praise for their role in the rescue operation,” said R.K. Verma, the chief engineer-in-charge of the NHPC, whose family members, too, were among those rescued.

“We did our job to the best of our abilities along with some private rafters and local residents. We were informed about the incident by the NHPC officials around 6 pm and we wasted little time in getting the rescue operation started,” said D. K. Rai, manager of the DGHC rafting squad.

According to members of the squad, the job proved difficult because of the velocity of the Teesta which, in any case, is known to be a very fast moving river. Moreover, the over eagerness of the stranded people to cross to the safety of the other side did not make things easy either.

“Everybody wanted to pile on to the rafts which could accommodate only about 11 to 12 people at a time. We had a difficult time convincing them that we couldn’t risk their lives,” said Sayog Gurung, one of the river guides.

Members of the squad were out in the river today in a bid to retrieve the submerged truck, in which the bodies of the driver and helper are feared trapped. “We have asked the NHPC officials to provide better equipment,” said Rai.

Lauding the valiant effort of the river guides, deputy superintendent of police, Siliguri, Niloo Sherpa Chakraborty, who had visited the site on Saturday night, said: “I was told by the officer in-charge of Rambi police station that the rafters played a major role in the evacuation exercise.”

The super seven of the River Rafting Centre include, besides Rai and Gurung, Santabir Tamang, Roshan Sundas, Shanti Rai, the lone woman member, Puran Pradhan and Ramesh Gurung.

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