AFTER THE Covid lockdown was announced last year and campuses were shut, 19-year-old Dewang Subil returned to his village in Kerala from Bengaluru. Four months ago, the computer science student with a passion for photography bought a battery-operated drone — he wanted to capture the best images.
Last week, Dewang and his drone did much better. They saved the lives of four fishermen who went missing in the high seas, making him the toast of his coastal village, Thalikulam, in Thrissur district.
According to Dewang, around noon on January 5, he heard from his father Subil E J, who owns a jewellery shop, about a vessel with four fishermen from the village going missing in the high seas.
The fishing vessel had left the village in the early hours of the day. Hours later, it was caught in rough sea, and got damaged. Before the huge waves sank the vessel, one of the fishermen on board managed to make a distress call to a fellow fisherman in mainland.
Within minutes, teams of fishermen ventured into the sea, launching their search operation. The Coast Guard was also informed and they sent a rescue boat. But the search teams returned empty handed hours later.
“I heard from my father about the incident around noon and seven hours had elapsed by then [since the fishermen went missing]. When I rushed to the coast, I saw the dejected fishermen who had returned after failing to trace the four,” says Dewang, a fourth semester B-Tech student at Christ University, Bengaluru, who is currently attending classes online.
Almost immediately, Dewang made up his mind. He wanted to pitch in and help locate the fishermen, and he knew his drone can help.
“At first, I thought about flying from the shore. But for better results, I decided to venture in the sea,” he says.
After obtaining permission from the authorities, Dewang hopped on to a vessel along with a few fishermen for another search operation.
Local legislator Geetha Gopi says initially they were reluctant as Dewang was new to sea.
“We dissuaded him from going into sea as he does not even know swimming. Also, chances of the expensive drone getting lost in the sea were high. However, he insisted and we allowed him to try his drone to help locate the fishermen,” says Gopi.
Dewang says the fishermen on the rescue vessel guided him initially about the possible location of the missing persons. “They told me the incident might have happened around 11 nautical miles from the shore. Though I flew the drone towards the directions they suggested, nothing could be spotted. In a flash, I decided to try another direction.” he says. “This led to the spotting of the four missing fishermen.”
Local panchayat member A Mehaboob says the village is indebted to Dewang. “He has no links with the fishing community nor our coast. Yet, in an hour of crisis, the young man extended his helping hand. Had it not for him, the missing fishermen would have floated away,’’ he says.
Kappam Veettil Iqbal, 49, one of the rescued fishermen, says after their vessel sank, they clung on to floating wreckage and empty kerosene cans for hours.
Iqbal was on the vessel with Chembanadan Kuttan, 59, Chembanadan Vijayan, 58 and Puthanparan Subramanian 60.
“For some time, we were together, trying to keep afloat. Later, we got tired and one of us, Vijayan, felt he would drown. Others also started floating away in different directions. Finally, we were spotted by a drone, leading to our rescue,” says Iqbal.
Dewang says it did cross his mind that he may lose his drone, which cost Rs 1 lakh, in the water. “While flying it, twice I feared that the drone would be lost while landing. But then my thought was only to find the fishermen,” he says.
The DJI Mavic Air 2 drone has a range of 8 km and can fly at a height of 500 m. It has 30-minute battery backup.
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