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Killer well devours rescuers

Hazaribagh, Sept. 30: In a freak accident, eight villagers today died, one after another, at Icchakdih, 53 km from here, when they stepped into a newly-dug well, each one to rescue the other.

Mining engineers from Central Coalfields Ltd. suspected a sudden emission of the deadly methane gas that took the lives of the eight men. The post-mortem report is awaited.

The tragic sequence of events began this morning when Basudev Rajwar (35) was engaged by a CCL employee, Wakil Rajwar, for carrying out some minor repair to the 45-feet deep well. The well had been commissioned barely a week ago and was being used for fetching drinking water.

Basudev, the repair man, claimed eyewitness accounts, had actually come out of the well after doing the repair, when he discovered that he had left behind a tool. His decision to get back into the well turned out to be fatal as he suddenly seemed to faint and collapse.

An unsuspecting Wakil (40) rushed out on hearing the report and promptly went down the well to rescue the seemingly unconscious repair-man. But he, too, collapsed. Two more men, who were near by, were drawn by the commotion and quickly plunged into the well and to their death.

Panic-stricken villagers were unable to comprehend what was happening and persuaded four other men to fish out the four bodies which were by now floating in the well. It was after these four men too collapsed in a heap that the panic button was pressed and police informed. CCL officials were also informed and a rescue team led by assistant engineer Ajay Kumar Singh was rushed to the spot.

The CCL team immediately suspected the role of some poisonous gas. They, therefore, decided to carry out a test and lit a lantern before lowering it into the well. Their worst suspicion was confirmed when the flame flickered out at a depth of 16 feet. Gas masks were requisitioned and all the bodies were eventually fished out of the jinxed well. Besides Basudev and Wakil, others identified were Bhim (25), Santosh (30), Amar (20), Chotelal (20), Jethu (25) and Phoolchand (25).

Rescuers claimed that none of the deceased had swallowed any water, which indicated that they had first died before collapsing in the water. Drowning, therefore, was ruled out, they held. The bodies were, however, taken to the police station.

The freak incident is being described as the first of its kind to have been reported from anywhere in the district. The Hazaribagh deputy commissioner, Manikant Azaad, sanctioned Rs 10,000 each to the families of the deceased.

The tragic and sudden death of so many men shocked the village as people tried to come to terms with the accident. Wife of Phoolchand Rajwar, married barely two months ago, was inconsolable as she wailed near the inauspicious well. Her septugenarian father-in-law had been rendered speechless at the cruel turn of fate. Shell-shocked villagers sat silently and tried to cope with the tragedy. All the eight families, they said, had lost their earning members and future for the survivors appeared bleak.

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