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Captain pulls it off this time too

Mumbai, Feb. 28: INS Sindhuratna’s commanding officer, taken grievously ill on Wednesday after jumping into a hellish pit of poisonous fumes to try and save two juniors, has cheated “the jaws of death” and been taken off the ventilator, navy sources said.

Commander Sandeep Sinha, 40, had inhaled toxic gases during the accident on the submarine, when a battery leak started a fire and extinguisher fumes filled two compartments. Two officers died and many were left critical.

“He has been taken off the ventilator. He was quite serious till morning but in the afternoon, there was a sudden turnaround,” a Western Naval Command source said.

“The doctors are saying that his willpower has brought him back from the jaws of death.”

A fellow submariner and former National Defence Academy mate had yesterday described “Sandy” Sinha as a “fighter” and hoped he would “pull this one off too”.

Sinha is the son of a retired naval commander of the logistics directorate and the son-in-law of a retired rear admiral from the naval armament inspectorate.

His wife Meetu, a computer engineer, had quit her Tata Consultancy Service job two years ago to support him during his command posting in Mumbai. The couple have a four-year-old daughter and a two-and-a-half-year-old son.

“Meetu has been by his side. Coming as she does from a family of naval officers and submariners, she has shown a stoic grace during these very tough and painful two days that few can emulate. The doctors were not sure how Sandy would fare,” the navy source said.

Meetu’s brother, Commander R. Sominder, is a submariner too. “Sandy and Sominder were course mates and close friends,” the source said.

The family’s naval connection doesn’t end there: the husband of Meetu’s sister is also a navy commander.

“This is a family that has the Indian Navy in its veins. They know the challenges of the job. They know the sacrifices that are needed and are not scared of them,” the senior naval officer who spoke to this newspaper said.

‘Heroic’ effort

Sinha had rushed into compartment 3 of the Sindhuratna on finding that two officers —Lieutenant Commander Kapish Muwal and Lieutenant Manoranjan Kumar — had been trapped inside.

“He had gone in to try to rescue them in total disregard of his personal safety. But his heroic efforts failed to save the two juniors’ lives,” said the source.

Despite taking in the gases and fully aware that they could be lethal, Sinha had manned the controls personally and brought the submarine up to the surface.

He had then stood by till every single soul had climbed to the surface to breathe in fresh air and revive themselves.

“He insisted he wouldn’t go up till every person on board had done so. Then, after ensuring shutdown of the controls, he was the last to go up,” the source said.

By that time he was quite sick, but still refused to be air-evacuated with the first lot of seven critically ill crew members.

“He agreed to go only when a ship came in after three hours to evacuate 22 more sailors and officers. This worsened his condition,” said the source, who is on the navy’s board of inquiry that will probe the accident.

The board of inquiry is to be headed by Rear Admiral S.V. Bhokare, Flag Officer Submarines. Bhokare is posted in Visakhapatnam but was in Mumbai during the accident.

This afternoon, the navy conducted a wreath-laying ceremony with full military honours in memory of Muwal and Kumar at the Western Naval Command, where there were few dry eyes. The bodies had been handed over to their families last night.

Sources said Muwal had probably been the first to spot the fire and had swiftly jumped in to contain its spread, with Kumar’s help. The two of them died trying to save the others in the two gas-filled compartments.

After the ceremony, Muwal was cremated in Mumbai. Kumar’s body will be flown to hometown Jamshedpur for the last rites.

It was erroneously reported in today’s edition that Muwal was married and leaves behind a child.