| Firemen at work at the pond. Picture by Avijit Sarkar
Mokdamgach (North Dinajpur), Oct. 4: Authorities searching for a mystery object “dropped’’ in a pond from an unidentified aircraft started pumping out the water today, as the Border Security Force dismissed the possibility of any “foreign’’ aircraft violating the country’s airspace.
The Indian Air Force, which checked out the villagers’ account of a Purulia-type drop from an aircraft flying low over the village, found the story unconvincing.
“No one except a 15-year-old girl taking a bath in the pond claimed to have seen an aircraft,’’ AOC-in-C of the Eastern Air Command Manek Madon told reporters at Borjhar air base.
The air force headquarters, however, would not say anything conclusively since the village is barely 1.5 km from the border with Bangladesh.
“From such a short distance, an aircraft flying in Bangladesh airspace could give the impression of being overhead,’’ an air force officer said. No radar had picked up a signal of any intruding aircraft in that area.
Director General of BSF Ajay Raj Sharma was categorical that no foreign aircraft had over-flown the country’s air space without permission. “The incident does not have any international ramifications. It’s all based on what the villagers said. From the feedback I have received, I don’t think aircraft from any neighbouring country was involved,’’ he said by phone.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the entire episode was “very unclear.’’ “I have already spoken to the district police authorities and they are now draining the pond.’’
With throngs of villagers looking on, securitymen whirred the two pumps into action around noon in an attempt to trace the object local residents claimed to have thuded into the weedy pond. Some said the object had ``exploded’’ in the air before plunging into the water.
“We are draining the pond in case the object the villagers claim to have seen is lying on the bottom. We are not taking any chances since it’s a border area,’’ district superintendent of police Arun Kumar, who was on the scene, said.
Despite deepening doubts about the accuracy of her account, Mamuda Khatun, 15, the lone witness, stressed that she had seen it all. “I still cannot believe it. It all happened before my eyes.’’
She said she was bathing in the pond around 12:30 pm. when she heard the buzz of an aircraft overhead. The aircraft circled the area, before winging away.
``But after 15 minutes or so, I heard the sound of another aircraft. I looked up and saw the aircraft dropping a grey object. It exploded in the air before falling down into the water with a thud,’’ the teenager said. She said the water turned white when the object hit its surface.
“I was scared to death. I got out of the water right away and ran home,’’ Mamuda said.
At that moment, Nirad Jamal, another villager, was sitting on the bank of the pond smoking bidis, while Ayub Ali, a boy, was catching fish. Jamal vouched for Mamuda’s account. ``This plane had come from where Bangladesh is. It circled overhead a few times before dropping the object into the pond,’’ Jamal said.
The area along the 50km-long border has no fencing and is extremely porous. Villagers said the area had in the past witnessed several skirmishes between the BSF and Bangladesh Rifles.