Four Class XII students who didn’t know how to swim drowned while taking a dip in the Hooghly after a game of football on Monday morning.
The bodies of Dipanjan Bhattacharya and Kishan Rout were fished out of the river by afternoon but the other two — Avishek Chatterjee and Suindrik Ganguly— hadn’t been traced until late on Monday. All four were students of commerce at Xavier’s English School in Konnagar.
Officials of the disaster management group said the search for the two bodies was focused on the area near Baro Mandir Ghat, along GT Road in Konnagar and about 20km from the city.
Police said the boys drowned during high tide. “None of the boys knew how to swim and they were probably swept away by the tide before getting stuck in the mud,” an officer at Uttarpara police station said.
Mahiul Islam, a classmate who knew how to swim, was able to come out of the water in the nick of time.
River traffic police and officers of Uttarpara police station had alerted the police stations at Bally and Serampore and those across the Hooghly, including Khardah, after the incident. But divers failed to trace the two bodies that are still missing.
Mahiul told the police that Suindrik and Avishek were the first to enter the water. The duo slipped and lost balance on the steps of the concrete ghat, covered with moss, he said.
Kishan and Dipanjan tried to pull their friends out, only to be dragged into the water and swept away by the tide.
“Mahiul said he had held on to Kishan and Dipanjan for some time but gave up on realising that he would also drown if he stayed in the water. Since he knew how to swim, the boy returned to the safety of the stairs,” said an officer investigating the case.
Mahiul called some shopkeepers for help but it was too late by the time they reached the bottom of the stairs leading to the river. The Class XII student later called up some friends, who informed the families of the four who drowned.
Kishan’s body was fished out an hour after residents of the area started the search. Dipanjan was found around 4pm. His thighs were covered in mud and there were weeds around his legs.
According to friends and family members, the youths were cricket fans who had only recently started playing football in keeping with the frenzy surrounding the Fifa World Cup starting in Brazil this week. Classmates described the five as close friends who were good in sports.
The police said the five friends had gone to the Kalitala Sporting Club ground near Konnagar station around 7am and played with some other boys till 9am.
“We divided ourselves into two teams representing Argentina and Brazil supporters. After the game, most of us went back home but the five of them decided to take a dip in the Hooghly before heading home,” said a common friend.
The five went to Baro Mandir Ghat, which has 12 temples in the vicinity, around 9.30am in two cycles and a motorbike. They kept their football jerseys and a ball outside a temple before going down the stairs for a dip.
“The temple was deserted then. Had the temple sebayets been around, they would have stopped the youths from taking a dip during high tide,” said Bappaditya Chatterjee, the chairman of Konnagar Municipality.
Dipanjan’s parents alleged negligence by the authorities, saying that divers of the disaster management group started the search only after 2pm. “Had the divers started the search earlier, my son might have been saved. The divers said they found him near the riverbank,” said Dipanjan’s father Dipankar Bhattacharya, who works for a private company.
Suindrik’s father said Monday was the second time he had gone to the Hooghly for a bath. When he had last taken a dip in the river in May, his parents had rebuked him and asked him never to do it again.
“I had repeatedly warned him not to go to the river and he had promised not to do so. Yesterday, he told me that he would come straight home after the game but he did not keep his promise,” said father Sudip Ganguly, a resident of Konnagar.
Ganguly said Suindrik and his friends were always more interested in cricket than football. They had watched the IPL final together and celebrated KKR’s victory.
“He started playing football on his computer and also in the field recently. He also bought a new football jersey. He is a big fan of Cristiano Ronaldo and his jersey number is also seven,” said a relative.