Three middle-aged women and two children were killed on Saturday morning on their way to Mayapur, when their car collided with a milk van hurtling down from the opposite direction on National Highway 34 in Nadia’s Ranaghat. The Chinese family, residents of Calcutta, was going to the Radha-Krishna mandir in Mayapur to celebrate Doljatra.
Some residents of Ghatigachha village — about 60 km from Calcutta — heard the crash of the collision and rushed to the spot to rescue the victims, trapped in the car.
According to police, five members of a family — Rita Chen (50), Yueh Hou Lee (54), Dalamu Lee (41), Chen Hsing Lee (12) and Xiu Jin Lee (10) — died on the spot. Only six-year-old Meeli Chen survived. She was first taken to a local hospital and then brought to Calcutta. The driver of the car, Mohammad Irfan Khan (30), also died on the spot.
“Visibility was low because of thick fog. The drivers of the car and the milk van spotted each other too late. Both the vehicles were travelling at a high speed,” said Nadia police superintendent H.K. Kusumakar.
Police think some members of the Chinese family could have died of suffocation, as thick smoke had engulfed the area after the crash.
As the bodies were brought back to their central Calcutta homes on Sunday morning, a pall of gloom descended over the family, which had chalked out a colourful plan to celebrate the festival of colours.
The Lee and the Chen families have been in Calcutta for three generations. They wanted to celebrate Doljatra in Mayapur and left the city on Friday evening.
As family friend Sushila Chetri — owner of a small hotel in Kalyani — and her family were also supposed to visit Mayapur, they spent the night at Chetri’s hotel.
“They started for Mayapur around 7 am on Saturday in separate cars. The car carrying the Chetris was ahead and accident occurred when the driver of the Lees was trying to catch up with it,” said a police officer.
By the time news of the fatal accident reached Ranaghat police station, residents of the nearby village had gathered on the spot and started the rescue operation.
“It was a horrible sight, with blood spilt and severed limbs strewn around… It was really difficult to get the bodies out of the car,” said Prabhas Sarkar, a trader of Ghatigachha, who led the rescue operations.
The Chetris had stopped their car near Shantipur, about 10 km from the accident site, and waited for the car carrying the Lee family to catch up.
But after some time, they started driving back towards Kalyani and at Ghatigachha, they got to know about the fatal accident.
“It is true that we were in a hurry to reach Mayapur, as lakhs of devotees turn up on Doljatra. But who knew it would result in such a big tragedy,” rued Sushila at Ranaghat Hospital, as tears rolled down her cheeks.