THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Around 12.15 pm on Thursday, Inthes tried his brother’s mobile phone number once again. After two rings, the call went dead. But a sliver of hope was rekindled.
For Cleetus - Inthes’s elder brother - is among the hundreds of fishermen reportedly still missing from seven fishing villages on the Kanyakumari coast a full week after Cyclone Ockhi struck. On Thursday, Inthes - with three others from his place - waited at the Indian Air Force (IAF) station at Shangumugham, Thiruvananthapuram, for news. After he handed over his brother’s mobile phone number, an IAF officer promptly launched efforts to trace the tower location.
“After seven days, 1,200 men from seven places on the Kanyakumari coast are still missing. We all are from Poothura. Twenty-three of our people have gone missing from Poothura alone,” Johnny, another of the four men, said.
All in all, 72 boats that left Thuthoor, Poothura, Chinnathura, Puthenthura, Vallavilai, Marthandamthurai and Neerodi have not returned yet, hurling the entire southern Tamil Nadu coast into desperation.
“Some had left for the sea two weeks before the cyclone hit, others three weeks before,” Anthony Pillai said.
They allege the Tamil Nadu Government has done little to locate the missing men. They are now banking on the Navy and the IAF to locate their kin.
On Wednesday, the IAF had launched a special mission using three transport aircraft and a helicopter to scour the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea from Kanyakumari to Mangalapuram. Thursday morning, one of the fixed-wing aircraft had succeeded in locating 15 men in two boats 134 nautical miles off Kozhikode. But the Kanyakumari fishermen said the search should now be taken beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone into the international waters.
There is a high likelihood of the boats drifting deeper and deeper into the ocean if they have run out of fuel, they said.
Sarang ‘sorties’ to hope
Ever since the IAF launched rescue operations, the ‘Sarang’ helicopter team of the IAF has been tirelessly conducting sorties to locate the missing fishermen and offer them assistance. But the job is getting more difficult for the team as the days roll on. ‘’In the initial days, you tend to find survivors closer to the shore, but the inclement weather poses problems.
As the operation progresses, the difficult thing is to locate the missing men as they drift further. But rescue is easy once you locate them because the weather has improved,’’ Wing Commander Sachin Anand Gadre, flanked by the other ‘Sarang’ pilots Wing Commander Aditya Singh and Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht, said. The team flies the HAL Dhruv helicopters. IAF’s Sarang team had played a key role in Operation Raahat, the IAF rescue operation during the 2013 Uttarakhand floods.