Rafiganj, Sept. 11: It was the forgotten coach. Dangling dangerously from the tracks but not smashed, coach A-4 had not attracted much attention, particularly of the officials in charge of the tardy rescue operations.
The ill-equipped and stretched workers finally entered A-4 this morning, more than 20 hours after the mishap. Ten trapped passengers were extricated from the coach, one of the last to be taken up for rescue. Their nightmare had finally ended.
As they were being carried out on stretchers, their eyes were dazzled by the light of day. It was a new dawn in their life, said one passenger, just happy to be alive. Their clothes were crumpled, caked with dirt and sweat, splattered with blood and reeking of the smell of death. Four of them were brought to the Gaya sadar hospital, treated and put on a special train to Calcutta.
Dr Rafiq Alam, one of the doctors who attended to the rescued passengers, said they were weak and emaciated, but had only minor injuries. One elderly passenger had to be administered glucose.
The rescue teams first concentrated on AS-1, a 3-tier sleeper coach that had broken into three pieces when it crashed through the rail bridge and bogie after bogie smashed into it. Two coaches behind it had piled on each other. Three others were hanging.
“These lurched vehemently, but did not hit the ground. As a result, there was not much damage. The rescue operation then focused on AS-1 and the coaches next to it for the chances of death were higher due to the force of the collision,” said a jawan helping with the relief work.
“We were directed to just break the windows of the other coaches so that the survivors could breathe easy and wait for their turn,” said Manish Paswan, a railway officer from Patna.
The passengers felt that in the process of taking up coaches by turn, the rescue team almost forgot about A-4. “We felt we had been left there to die,” said S.K. Mitra, who was pulled out today.
“It was an excruciatingly painful experience for all of us,” said Amit Sen, a fellow traveller. He was trapped inside a lower berth as two iron rods and a portion of the wood panel had caved in after the impact of the accident and blocked his way.
“Without food, light and care, I was in semi-consciousness and could not even move to break the window open,” he said. After the first day, Amit realised that more people trapped inside. Like him, they also could not make any attempt to get out. “It was a precarious situation. Our fate dangled like the coach in which we were trapped was hanging from the track on the edge of the river bank,” he said.
Mitra, too, slipped in and out of consciousness. Every time he came to his senses, there seemed to be no end to the horror. “We did not shout much as this would not be heard,” he said.
Sunil Kumar Das, a Bangladeshi in AS-3, the coach next to A-4, understood their helplessness. Luckily, Das was not trapped as Sen or Mitra. Once he crawled out through a window and dropped himself gingerly on a muddy patch, he realised that outside the crumpled coaches, little could be heard.
Das also managed to save a month-old baby by holding up a windowpane as it cracked up. “That is because I was wide awake and as soon as the lurching of the train began, I became alert,” Das said.
At the end of the operation, anger and anguish receded in the face of the sheer tragedy and the passengers of A-4 forced a smile on their faces. “After all, we are returning home,” said A. Banerjee and S. Chowdhary.