Indian Navy divers, NDRF and Fire and Emergency Services teams pulled out 14 bodies from the motor launch that capsized on river Godavari Tuesday evening. The launch, which was found at a depth of 60 feet and around 100 metres away from the shore near Varapalli tribal hamlet, was salvaged with help of boats and a crane.
Officials at Devipatnam Police Station said bodies of eight women, four children and two men were recovered from the cabin of the launch that sank between Devipatnam and Varapalli areas in East Godavari district during a squall Tuesday evening. At least 40 persons, all Kondareddy tribals from the hamlets along the river, were on board when the launch capsized while trying to turn towards the bank at Varapalli. The people were returning from a weekly market.
“The bodies were found in the cabin where they had taken shelter from the rain and high-speed winds when the storm hit Tuesday afternoon. They had locked the windows and door to escape the rain and had no chance to escape when the boat tilted and capsized suddenly. Divers broke open the windows and a door to bring out the bodies,’’ an official said.
Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu visited the spot briefly to take stock of the rescue efforts. Divers had tried to locate the boat on Tuesday night but could do little owing to darkness and unfavourable weather conditions. Divers from Indian Navy from Visakhapatnam joined East Godavari district officials to trace the launch early morning today.
There was still no confirmation on how many persons are still missing. There were at least five children in the boat according to the survivors. Officials, who have been deputed to the tribal hamlets along the river to find out if anyone is missing, returned with a list of 19.
A few people, reportedly, swam ashore. Officials said that among the survivors is a 14-year-old girl Sirisha who jumped out of the launch and hung on to a new fridge that kept her afloat. “The packing had not been opened so there was a lot of thermocol due to which it floated and the girl hung on to it and waded towards the shore. She was rescued by locals. She is in a state of shock and undergoing treatment at Rajahmundry,” an official said.
East Godavari district collector Kartikeya Misra said some of the survivors informed that the boat got caught in high-speed winds and heavy rain and when the driver tried to steer it towards the shore it tilted to one side suddenly and went down.
Misra said survivors told him that when the launch got caught up in the storm, passengers requested the driver and boat owner, Khaja Moinuddin, who was also in the launch, to take it to the shore and anchor it safely. “It seems that the driver said there was no reason to worry and continued the journey. Near Varapalli the driver tried to turn the boat but tilted to one side due to the high-speed winds and capsized immediately,’’ Misra said.
The driver and boat owner, who swam ashore, have surrendered before police.
The rescue teams had a tough time reaching the spot due to lack of properly built roads to the place where the mishap occurred. While Navy divers were airlifted to the spot, NDRF, SDRF, Fire and other rescue teams reached by rubber boats. The EG district administration has temporarily halted all movement of motor launches in the area.