The bodies of 26-year-old Lt Commander Kapish Muwal and 25-year-old Lt Manoranjan Kumar were extracted from the INS Sindhuratna on Thursday. The bodies were in the battery pit of the Kilo class submarine, where a fire had broken out after gas leaked from a battery early Wednesday morning.
The submarine, which was over 100 nautical miles off the Mumbai coast at the time of the accident, was brought into the harbour around 9.45 am on Thursday. Officials said the vessel was ventilated and efforts launched to locate the missing sailors.
The bodies were discovered around 1 pm, and the two officers were declared dead soon afterward. Search and other operations continued until late in the afternoon, and the bodies were flown in a Chetak helicopter to the Indian Naval Hospital Ship Asvini around 5.30 pm.
The sailors had been sent out to sea on a 10-day exercise to test the Sindhuratna’s recent refit, and were supposed to return by March 1. Experts were on Thursday working to establish the reason the battery leaked. The submarine was docked at the Naval dockyard with its hatches open.
“Since the compartment was sealed after the fire broke out, the two officers were exposed to the poisonous gas for a long time. Their bodies have bloated, and the facial features have been distorted,” a friend of Lt Kumar’s said.
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Dr S D Nanandkar, head of the forensic department at the state-run J J Hospital, said the bodies would be brought in for a DNA analysis later on Thursday night. While death was believed to have been caused by asphyxia, forensic experts were expected to probe the extent of toxin inhalation and the estimated time of death.
Lt Commander Muwal, the son of a former naval officer, was deputy electrical officer of the Sindhuratna. He was considered a star at school, said a friend who did not wish to be named. “Our parents often cited Kapish’s example because he was an all-rounder. All of us belong to naval families, and he was the most popular in our age group,” the friend said.
“This is both a personal and a professional loss that we will experience for the rest of our lives. He was a gem.”
Muwal, who went to Delhi’s Naval Public School, was a promising officer who outshone everyone in his class, his friends recalled. “I remember him as a great athlete,” said one friend.
Lt Kumar, the Sindhuratna’s watch keeping officer, went to Army School in Bareilly, and graduated from the Naval Engineering College, Lonavala, in 2009. According to a source close to the lieutenant, Kumar had just got engaged, and the refit exercise of the Sindhuratna was his first nautical assignment after returning to work.
“His fiancee visited the hospital in the evening. His father, who lives in Jamshedpur, arrived around 6 pm. The process of DNA analysis was supposed to be started after informing them,” said a source at the hospital.
The seven sailors who were rescued from the submarine remained in the intensive care unit of the Asvini on Thursday. They were out of danger, but continued to have laboured breathing, sources said. A surgeon from the hospital said, “Their health is being monitored, and they will be discharged in few days.”