The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Reveller rush proves fatal
- Eight feared drowned as crowded boat to raas mela sinks

Uttar Chunakhali (South 24-Parganas), Nov. 26: At least eight persons were feared drowned when a mechanised boat carrying about 80 passengers capsized in the Vidyadhari river around 7.30 pm yesterday. Unofficial sources said 20 persons were missing.

So far, only the body of an infant has been recovered. Rescue operations, hampered last night by fog, were renewed this morning and are continuing.

The boat, which was going from Uttar Chunakhali to the raas mela at Gabberia in Sandeshkhali, was carrying people much beyond its capacity, alleged survivors. “The boat’s carrying capacity was about 40 passengers. Two young oarsmen were in charge and could do little when it sprang a leak,” said Akbar Naskar, a rescued passenger.

“The boat, packed with passengers, was almost halfway through its journey when water seeped into the hold due to leakage. Coupled with the swirling current, the malfunction made the boat overturn,” said another passenger Hossein Ali Sheikh. Villagers jumped to their rescue on hearing their cries for help but their efforts were hampered by the darkness and dense fog, he added.

The body of one-and-a-half-year-old Khoka Sardar has been found. The missing include Sabita Mistry, 38, her daughters Pinky, 16, and Soma, 8, her nephew Rahul Naskar, 6, Sasanka Pradhan, 51, Jalpana Sardar, 16 and Nitai Patra, 57, the boat-owner.

“It is not yet clear whether Nitai has drowned or is absconding,” said subdivisional police officer (Canning) Subhankar Sinha Sarkar.

“We got news of the incident at 11 last night. I rushed to the spot with the officer-in-charge of Basanti police station, Mainak Banerjee, and other senior officers. Rescue operation started with the help of villagers, but could not progress due to the fog and darkness. Efforts were renewed this morning. A disaster management team led by inspector Ullas Chakraborty was sent by Calcutta police today at 4.30 pm,” he added.

Basanti MLA Subhas Sarkar, who took an active part in the rescue, said: “About 80 persons were in the boat and around 20 are still missing.”

Jayanta Naskar, former pradhan of Chunakhali panchayat and present panchayat samity member, agreed. “Twenty persons are missing and we have their names. Police officers are not giving a true picture of the accident. Some bodies may have been swept away by the strong current,” he said. Sarkar did not give the number of persons rescued.

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