A 22-year-old man drowned in the sea at Marine Drive on Saturday after he jumped in to rescue a minor boy swept by a massive wave that hit the promenade. While Sahil Khan (13) was not found until Saturday evening, the body of the man, identified as Javed Shaikh, washed ashore at around 7 pm.
Shaikh was taken to GT Hospital, where he was declared dead.
The search for Khan, a schoolboy from Nagpada, was called off after dark. The Navy will resume the search operation on Sunday, the police said.
Khan had gone to school on Saturday as usual. After his school hours, he called his mother and said he was going to play at a park in Nagpada. Instead, he and six other friends went to Marine Drive. It was only after the boys called their parents after the disaster that Khan’s parents learnt about what had befallen them.
The incident took place at around 2 pm, when crowds of people were making their way to the Marine Drive promenade to view the high waves and take in the windy weather.
At the time Shaikh was riding his motorcycle on Marine Drive with a friend on the pillion, when he spotted a crowd building up at the promenade near the Princess Street flyover and people crying for help. He pulled over and after finding out that a huge wave had pulled a small boy into the sea, he jumped into the water in a daring rescue act, only to be pulled in himself. It is unclear if he even knew how to swim.
It was high drama on Marine Drive during the five-hour rescue operation involving the Mumbai Fire Brigade, Mumbai Police, a Coast Guard chopper and Indian Navy divers. Massive crowds repeatedly gathered on the promenade near the flyover to watch the rescue operations, unheeding warnings by policemen who had deployed to keep the people at bay.
Shaikh was a resident of a slum in Nariman Point. He worked as a driver. Suraj Shah, who was riding pillion with Shaikh, said, “Shaikh came to my house (in Nariman Point) and asked me to accompany him and his other friends for a bike ride. So we were driving through the promenade when we heard people screaming for help.”
Shah said Shaikh stopped the bike and when they found out that the sea had pulled in a minor boy, “he handed me his phone and wallet and dived into the sea to save the boy”.
There was a high tide warning of 4.74 metres for Saturday.
“The waves were so high that it was landing directly on the road, due to which there were patrolling police officials who were asking the crowds to stay away from the promenade,” said assistant commissioner of police Subhash Khanvilkar (Colaba division).
At one point, eyewitnesses said they saw Shaikh managed to get hold of the boy and catch the rope that policemen at the promenade threw in to rescue the two. But just then a huge wave came in, and threw Shaikh against a tetra-pod. “Shaikh held the rope that a policeman flung into the water and he had caught hold the boy as well, but after
his head banged against a tetra pod, he lost his grip and both he and the boy got pulled in by the wave again,” said assistant divisional fire officer R D Bhor.
The Coast Guard deployed a chopper at around 5 pm for an aerial search. “They flew over the area for an hour, but couldn’t find them,” said Khanvilkar.
As high tide started receding at about 6.30 pm, residents of the Nariman Point slum where Shaikh lived, who were present in strength at Marine Drive, swarmed down on the tetrapods to launch their own search operation. “At around 7.15 pm, Shaikh’s body was spotted on the shore. He was rushed to GT hospital,” said an officer.
An on-duty casualty medical officer said, “His lungs were filled with water. We declared him dead in hospital.” A post-mortem would be carried out, the doctor added.
Shaikh, who stayed alone, used to conduct horse ferry rides at the promenade for a living. He got a job as a driver only two months ago. “In his childhood, Shaikh was staying in south Mumbai with people from his community but later as he befriended us, he started living with us,” said another of his friends Sunny Jadhav. Shaikh’s elder brother stays in Dharavi. He arrived at the spot to join the search. His parents live in Manipur.
“He had said that he was planning to visit his native place as his sister was getting married,” Jadhav said.
The crowd at Marine Drive swelled on Saturday evening as rescue vehicles and an ambulance arrived as the search operation ensued. After Shaikh’s body was recovered from the tetrapods, a woman at the seaface suffered an asthma attack, which caused more confusion and panic in the crowd.
Even as rescue operations were underway, BMC workers
in yellow raincoats were seen sweeping the promenade continuously as the sea spewed up tonnes of garbage.