CHENNAI: What was supposed to be a relaxed retirement trip for two couples to Kedarnath turned into a tragedy after the helicopter carrying three of the four persons crashed in a valley in Uttarakhand on Tuesday morning. Prem Kumar (63), wife Sujatha (56) and Sujatha’s cousin R Kalai (60) were in the helicopter, ferrying pilgrims from Kedarnath to Guptkashi.
Kalai’s husband Ramesh, who had decided to hike through the hills and take a jeep to Guptkashi, came to know about his wife’s death while he was climbing down a hill. Prem Kumar and Sujatha lived on the first floor of their house in Santham Colony in Thirumangalam while Sujatha’s parents, aged 85 and 89, live on the ground floor. Neighbours remember the couple as devotional and religious.
They liked to travel to temples across TN. Prem Kumar, who held a top position at a private company in Bihar, returned to Chennai after retirement. “They built this house 27 years ago. Their elder son is settled in Singapore, where he recently got his residential permit, and daughter, who was studying in the US, settled there after wedding. The daughter, Kavya, visited her parents recently and the couple flew to Singapore a month ago to meet their son, Prasanth,” said a neighbour.
Kumar’s elder brother Ram Kumar said TN government helped with the procedures to retrieve the bodies. “The news came as a shock to us. This is their first trip to Kedarnath,” said Ram Kumar.
Prem Kumar lost his mother to Covid-19 and the couple had had a hard time during the pandemic as their children were stuck abroad. “Sujatha doesn’t talk much but she was happy to see her children once the pandemic restrictions were lifted,” the neighbour said. Ramesh, who worked at a private company, retired a few years ago and stayed with wife Kalai on Balakrishna Street in Mylapore.
Both their children are married and settled out of the city, said their relatives. The drivers who had helped the two couples commute said Sujatha had undergone surgery in the knee recently and Kalai had trouble walking too. The relatives said Ramesh volunteered to take the jeep as the chopper was full. The bodies are expected to arrive in TN tomorrow.