Journo dead, jawan missing in botched elephant rescue operation

The powerboat overturned near the bridge and the crew members fell into the crashing waters at the head of the barrage.

Published: 25th September 2021 09:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th September 2021 09:25 AM   |  A+A-

Crew members clinging to the capsized rescue boat as the elephant stands nearby in Mahanadi river at Mundali barrage near Cuttack on Friday (Photo | EPS)

By Express News Service

BHUBANESWAR: An elephant rescue operation on Mahanadi river at Mundali barrage near Cuttack went horribly wrong as a TV journalist drowned while a member of Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) went missing after the rescue boat capsized on Friday afternoon.

The incident happened when an ODRAF inflatable powerboat with the chief reporter of local Odia news channel OTV Arindam Das and his cameraperson Pravat Sinha on board went into the river to rescue a sub-adult elephant which was stuck near the barrage in the flooded river for nearly seven hours. The boat capsized after it lost control while trying to get closer to the tusker. The engine of the boat also stopped working.  

The powerboat overturned near the bridge and the crew members fell into the crashing waters at the head of the barrage. Despite wearing life jackets, they could not swim nor float on the water due to high current. Even the tusker was seen struggling to stand in the high current of the water. 

Arindam Das was pulled out of the river but could not survive. He was announced received dead by doctors at the SCB Medical College and Hospital, Cuttack. Hospital Emergency Officer Bhubanananda Maharana said “Doctors tried to revive him for more than an hour but  couldn’t. One of the four other ODRAF personnel and video journalist Sinha are in critical condition.”

ODRAF member Sitaram Murmu, an experienced boat driver who was part of the rescue team, has remained untraced even after hours of search operation.  A team of NDRF personnel along with ODRAF and Fire services personnel carried out the search operation in the swollen river to trace him. The search operation was put on hold due to darkness and will be resumed on Saturday morning, said Additional DG (law and Order) RK Sharma. 

Chandaka DFO Md Jameel, who was at the spot, said a herd of seven elephants was crossing the swollen river to reach Chandaka from Athagarh forest area in the morning. “While six managed to cross the river, one got trapped in the strong current of the river prompting authorities to go for its rescue,” he said. 

On being informed by the locals about the incident, the Athagarh forest team and the local fire services personnel rushed to the spot. Later a team from Chandaka joined them. Around 50 forest personnel along with senior forest officials including PCCF Wildlife Shashi Paul were present at the spot till late night. The situation is being monitored carefully and efforts are on to rescue the elephant from the flooded river, Jameel said. 

He said elephants are good swimmers and they are hopeful that it will swim through the river if they succeed in driving it away from the place where it has remained stranded. Meanwhile, a senior OSDMA official admitted that mediapersons should not have been allowed to get into a boat during such rescue operations. “It was a mistake and the matter is being investigated,” he said.


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