| One of the cable cars that crashed. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, Oct. 19: Three cabins of a Darjeeling ropeway jumped the cable when it slipped off the conveyor wheel atop a post and plunged 50 feet into the valley below, killing four tourists, in one of the worst cable car disasters in the hills in recent times.
The 5-km Darjeeling Rangeet Valley Ropeway, a joint venture of the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation and the Conveyor and Ropeway Services Private Ltd, was revamped in 1988 and is operated between North Point (Singamari) about 4 km from Darjeeling town to the downhill Vah Tukvar.
CRS site manager S. Chowdhury and three maintenance workers were arrested late tonight for negligence.
Cabins 15, 1 and 2 of the 15-car service that were bringing tourists back from Vah Tukvar plummeted around 11.15 in the morning when the cable slipped from the rollers on the fourth post (from the North Point end) near Sat Talla.
Fortunately, cabin 2, which tumbled about 200 ft further into a gorge, did not have any passenger on board. The other two occupied cabins crashed into tea bushes of the Patabung estate and came to rest after rolling a short distance.
Eyewitnesses said the passengers were flung out of the gondolas on impact and suffered head injuries. Four persons died and 11 were injured, of whom six are said to be critical. They were transferred to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital in Siliguri this evening.
Biswajit Mondal, 45, was killed on the spot, while his wife Bratati, 35, Bandana Maity, 40, and Tanushree Maity, 7, succumbed to their injuries in hospital.
All the victims and the injured, who were first admitted to a separate emergency room at Eden Hospital in Darjeeling, are from Kharagpur.
Residents of Shantiparbat, the settlement nearest to the spot where the gondolas landed, and students of the nearby Mount Hermon school sprang to the passengers rescue immediately after the mishap. Most of the them were carried to the school, a 10-minute walk away, and administered first aid.
In the meantime, about 20 people left dangling in their cabins spent a couple of agonising hours before the cable cars were slowly brought to the two ends around 2 in the afternoon.
Darjeeling superintendent of police Sanjay Chander said they had mulled an aerial rescue with the help of the air force, but the need did not arise as the cable was soon repaired.
The service is run and maintained by the CRS, which pays 15 per cent of the profit to the forest development corporation. Neeraj Singhal, WBFDC divisional manager, said the ropeway will be closed for an indefinite period and a probe started immediately.
We will have to have a thorough probe before we jump to conclusions. The company is a renowned one and runs similar services in many parts of the country, WBFDC managing director Arin Ghosh said in Calcutta. The office of the private company has been sealed.
As news of the mishap reached Darjeeling, companions of the passengers pressed the panic button. Their anxiety heightened with little news filtering in about their near and dear ones.
What is this' There is no one to give us information on the fate of my wife and that of others. Not even a single officer is present here, and I do not know what to do. Can you tell us about the cable, we have six members in it, complained a desperate Shamrao Shinde, a former mayor of Kolhapur, in Maharashtra, at North Point before the cable cars were harboured.