VIJAYAWADA: Even more than a week after the tragic boat accident, which claimed the lives of more than 40 tourists, the efforts to retrieve the wreckage of Royal Vasishta at Kachuluru in Devipatnam mandal, is proving a daunting task when compared to the earlier operations launched by the government to fish out boats in the Manturu and Ballimella incidents.
“Retrieving the boat wreckage at Kachuluru is proving tricky and challenging,’’ says Rampachodavaram ITDA project officer Nishant Kumar, who has been supervising the search and rescue operations from day one. On September 15, a private tourist boat Royal Vasishta with 77 people, including eight crew, set out from Pochamma Gandi to Papi Kondalu before capsizing at Kachuluru while negotiating a vortex in the river.
Experts by using side-scan sonars found the boat lying at a depth of more than 210 feet in the river. It has sunk far deeper than two other boats — one at Ballimella in 2008, in which 38 police personnel drowned, and another at Manturu, which claimed the lives of around 21 people in May 2018.
Ballimela boat sank to a depth of 43 metres, while in the Manturu tragedy, the boat was found at a depth of 60 feet.
“But, at Kachuluru, which is full of vortices, the boat is found at a depth of more than 200 feet where even the best and experienced deep divers cannot go,” Nishant said.
Ballimela is a reservoir where the water is still or flows slowly, but the situation in the River Godavari is totally different.
When the Manturu mishap happened in May last year the water levels and intensity of flow in the Godavari were low. Further, the accident spot was closer to the river bank which helped the search and rescue teams to set up a crane on the bank and pull out the boat.
“However, the situation is completely different at Kachuluru. It is the rainy season and the water levels and intensity of the flow are high. Further, the inflows have once again started increasing and intermittent rains have only aggravated the situation,” the ITDA official explained.
Nishant observed that there are two factors that are hindering the retrieval of the boat - zero visibility because of murky water and the vortex, which is making the approach of men and machines very challenging.
“Further, there is no road connectivity to Kachuluru. On the day of the incident, we have to reach the spot by boat from Devipatnam police station. If we were to take a large crane to pull out the boat, we had to clear the area of vegetation, including several thousands of trees in the reserved forest.
Most importantly, we have to blast the rocks on the river bank at the accident spot, which might take several days. If the crane gets stuck, the entire road could be closed forever,” he said. All these plans and possibilities were discussed and even marine salvaging experts from Marine Masters Company were roped in for retrieving the boat.
“They said it is much easier to retrieve a vessel in the sea than in the river. However, they have taken stock of the situation and will shortly submit their plan to retrieve the boat,” he said
On the reports of local fishermen seeking nod to try to retrieve the boat, he wondered how can a small boat with just ordinary ropes retrieve it, when much superior boats and iron chains are finding it difficult.
“Our first priority is to trace the missing persons. NDRF, SDRF, and others are on the job. We cannot risk more lives just based on their claims,” he said.
Toll touches 37
The body of a woman aged about 40 years was traced at Kachuluru on Sunday taking the boat mishap toll to 37. The fate of 14 persons is not known