The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rescuer mistaken for survivor

Rafiganj, Sept. 13: That nerves were on edge and hopes for a miracle still burning became evident from an episode at the accident site yesterday.

R.K. Pande, a “body hunter” on the railway’s rolls, had gone inside Coach A3 after it was made accessible by gas cutters. Four bodies had been extricated from the bogie. But since a smell still emanated, Pande went in to search for the source.

When he did not re-emerge an hour later, a colleague went to check. In the dim light, he saw a human form lying limp and thought it was a passenger. He shouted for Pande and for help.

The response from outside was immediate. Workers went in through the hole made by the gas cutters and brought out the body which, in daylight, turned out to be Pande who had passed out because of the strong stench and the suffocating conditions.

Pande came to his senses by the jolt he received when his “body” was “dumped” on the ground adjacent to the coach. “Kya main maraa nahin' (Am I not dead)'” were his first words.

This sparked a commotion that lasted 20 minutes. “A survivor has been found! A passenger is alive!” the shouts rang out.

Everyone in earshot rushed to see the “survivor”. Neither Pande nor his colleague had a chance to explain, perhaps even amused by what was going on.

They finally managed, dashing the hopes of relatives who had still not found their kin . Some railway officials were also dismayed, as a rescue on the third day would have been good news.

Pande’s travails continued at the hospital and on the way to it. He was repeatedly asked his name and, when he uttered it, volunteers checked the list of missing. It took a while to explain he was not a survivor.

Amid all the farce, there were poignant scenes. The body of Sunil Basu of Hooghly, who was also travelling on Coach A3, was found. While cutting through the metal and mattress of the seats, a worker smelt rotting flesh. He carefully went around the area and slowly the head and then the forehead appeared. Colleague Sibir De and brother-in-law Dhiren Maity recognised the body. “Please be careful, don’t hurt him any more,” they requested. The body was brought out at 4 pm, six hours after it was found.

Incidents of honesty were seen as well. A worker found the body of a woman with a heavy gold chain around her neck. He took it off and tied it around her wrist. Pappu, a railway employee, fastened the clasp of a wristwatch on the forearm of a male passenger, while the bulky wallet of another was fixed firmly in his pocket.

Outside, several belongings of passengers lay strewn on the riverbed. Munna Yadav, a poor villager from the area was not even tempted to take anything away. “We will be cursed if we use any of these items. Besides, who would want to be reminded of the tragedy'”

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