Darjeeling, Oct. 19: For Man Bahadur Chhetri, a tea garden worker, it was a usual Sunday morning stroll till he heard a noise and felt a vibration that shook up the calm of Patabung.
“I looked up from my garden at the ropeway where the cable cars were slowly making their way up and down the popular ride. I sensed nothing amiss till I looked up to see a gondola swing wildly and then come crashing down,” Chhetri said.
His hands and feet muddy from the rescue operation he had joined in, the dazed man said as soon as the first car fell into the bushes of the Patabung Tea Garden, the villagers started panicking. “People were shouting and gesticulating wildly at the control room more than half a kilometre away. They saw two more cars fall off the cable,” Chhetri said.
Local people dashed towards the accident site, where the crushed cars and bodies were strewn among tea bushes. Chhetri said: “Some of the men and women were moaning, others seemed dead. It was a terrible sight.”
Saroj Lama, who works at Mouth Hermon School nearby, said the students did not waste any time in rushing stretchers from their clinic to the spot.
“The boys also brought them water and first aid from the school as we were trying to take the injured up to Mount Hermon Road, a good 15-minute trudge from the site,” Lama said.
“I was working in the school when the cars began to fall off and I could hear the screams of the injured. I rushed down to the tea garden immediately with the boys,” Lama said.
“One of the men whom we took out from the car seemed dead. I got to know later he was Biswajit Mondol, one of the first victims to be identified,” said the school employee.
Up in the dozen stranded cars, passengers were peering down anxiously. “We realised that they were not panicking and reassured them from the ground. We pleaded with them to remain calm,” said Sanjay Lama, a local villager.
He said emergency ropes were dangling from many of the cars but none of the trapped passengers made an attempt to clamber down.
“We saw Dhanesh Subba, the accountant of the cable car company, waving at us as if trying to say that they were all right. All of them were brave enough to remain suspended in mid-air for nearly three hours,” said Sanjay.