| Army and civilian rescue workers look for the missing men. A Telegraph picture
Sevoke, Aug. 22: Five army men died and seven went missing today after their truck skidded off National Highway 31 between Mongpong and Sevoke Coronation Bridge and fell into the Teesta.
Six injured jawans were rescued from the river, while it took almost seven hours just to locate the truck. It has not yet been hauled out of the river.
The dead include at least one junior commissioned officer, whose identity has been disclosed along with those of the rescued six. However, the army has remained tight-lipped about the names and ranks of the remaining 11.
It was around 8.30am when 18 army men — all from the Sixth Maratha Regiment — were heading for Sevoke from Binnaguri in Jalpaiguri district. Shankar Saha, a civilian, was travelling in another truck just behind the army vehicle when the accident took place, around 30km from Siliguri.
“The truck in front of us suddenly went off the road, broke through the parapet and hurtled into the river 300ft below,” Saha said.
Saha immediately jumped out of his truck, ran back towards a spot where the highway and the river are almost on the same plane and stopped at the water’s edge.
“I could see some of the army men, struggling to stay afloat,” he said. “I found no rope to throw to them, but managed to get hold of some bamboo poles. There were a few other people around and we held the poles out to the jawans. A couple of them got hold of them and scrambled to the bank.”
Within the next couple of hours, army officials from Sevoke, Bagrakote and Kalimpong reached the spot. Two Indian Air Force choppers hovered over the area trying to locate the vehicle and the missing persons, while a fire-engine from Malbazar, rafts from Teesta Bazaar in Kalimpong and members of NGOs from Siliguri launched a rescue operation.
Soon, the lifeless body of Parshuram Tandey, the junior commissioned officer, was hauled out of the river.
The six rescued jawans were identified as Tanvir Yadav, Jyoti Ba, Sandip, Malkar, Silvashankar and Pradip Gorkha, all constables in the regiment. They were taken to Binnaguri army hospital for treatment. The rescuers also recovered four INSAS rifles from the river, probably just a small portion of all the arms the jawans were carrying.
“According to preliminary investigation, the front left tyre of the truck had burst, throwing the vehicle out of control,” said the inspector-general of police (North Bengal), R.J.S. Nalwa.
The Teesta is quite deep at the spot and rescuers initially found it difficult to locate the truck. “We started our rescue and search operations at 10am and finally managed to locate the vehicle around 4.30pm,” said Santosh Lama of Action Adventure and Rescue Group, which pressed two rafts into service.
“We have tied ropes to the truck to prevent it from being swept away. Tomorrow, we will try to get it out of the river, while the search for the missing persons will also continue,” he added.
The incident held up traffic on the highway for a few hours.