Darjeeling, Oct. 21: As their gondola slowed down and came to rest metres from the fourth post of the ropeway, from where Abdul Razzaq and his wife Nasreen had seen cars no. 15, 1 and 2 teeter and fall, they thanked their stars.
Had the Guwahati residents, on vacation in the hill town, known better, they would have thanked Dhanesh Subba instead.
Passengers on the ropeway found an unlikely hero in the 35-year-old accountant of the cable car company who was in car No. 14 on his way from Singamari with a carpenter to oversee some repair work at Vah-Tukvar.
Subba’s presence of mind and mobile phone helped avert a tragedy of greater proportions. The site of the disaster cannot be seen either from the Singamari or Vah-Tukvar control rooms.
Still shaken from the ordeal — “I have not touched a newspaper or seen TV since Sunday” — Subba recalled the incident as he saw it. “Five minutes through the journey, I heard an ear splitting crash. I immediately realised that one of the cars had fallen. Instinctively, I whipped out my mobile and called station-in-charge S. Chowdhury,” he said.
As Chowdhury picked up the phone, Subba shouted: “Stop the cars. Stop the cars.”
“I could not say anything else though he kept asking me the reason. Every second was precious. I guess he was at the ticket counter. By the time he rushed to the control room, I watched helplessly as two more cabins crashed into the tea garden below.”
Just as Subba’s gondola crossed the fourth post, it came to a halt. “The car swayed dangerously for a moment before coming to rest.” The power had been switched off, before cabins 5, 6, 7 and 8 could cross the fourth post and meet the same end as 15, 1 and 2. Subba had his task cut out — keeping passengers from panicking. Onlookers on the ground now remember a speck 100 feet above, communicating with the rescuers.