Foot stuck in four-inch pipe for two days, hope of dam diver's survival fades

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 16.12.09
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Purulia, Dec. 15: All attempts to extricate the right foot of diver Mukesh Kumar, stuck in a pipe inside a pitch dark and submerged chamber of a Purulia power project’s reservoir since Sunday afternoon, remained unsuccessful till late Tuesday night.

It is feared that the 35-year-old father of two may not have survived the ordeal.

His intake of oxygen, being piped from the surface, dropped this morning, said officials involved in the rescue operations for over 48 hours.

“Until we get hold of the body, officially all that we can say is that efforts are on to get Mukesh out,” said Surojit Dutta, project manager of the hydel power plant nestled in the Ayodhya hills, about 380km from Calcutta.

Divers from a firm in Barrackpore, on the fringes of Calcutta, who specialise in underwater rescue went down last night. “The suction at the mouth of the drainage pipe where his foot is stuck is too great,” said Ashis Dutta, one of the four from the city.

Two divers went down in vain this morning.

In the afternoon, they tied Mukesh with ropes to pull him up from the surface, but it led to fears that his foot might get severed.

“His mask had come off and the body had become stiff because of the cold water and the enormous pressure at such depth,” Ashis said.

Mukesh has been under 120ft of water for over 48 hours and his diving suit is apparently not equipped to maintain pressure beyond 38 hours. Even when he was breathing normally last night, the authorities were concerned about the lack of nutrition and drinking water.

In Jhajjar, Haryana, where his wife Pinki lives with their children, the family has been informed about the developments. Other members of the team of seven with which Mukesh came to Purulia to repair an underwater leak called her.

The Mumbai-based Grafftech Marine and Engineering Company had assigned the job to the team from Visakhapatnam after officials of the Purulia Pumped Storage Project contracted it to locate and repair the leak in a reservoir chamber, first noticed in March.

Asked how the accident happened, Grafftech project manager C.K. Baruah said the foot must have been pulled in by the suction of the drainage pipe when he stepped on it. His teammates could not pull him out on Sunday afternoon because, the official said, a nervous Mukesh held on to them every time they came near him.

As a result of the leak in the pipe, the water level in the reservoir had been going down and hurting power generation.

Baruah said the job was to locate the leak in the inundated reservoir chamber, find out what had caused it and carry out repairs.

The repair work was to have been recorded on camera but there is no footage of Mukesh’s dive.

Baruah admitted that such assignments were risky. “That is why divers with experience and capable of taking care of themselves are given such tasks. Mukesh had 10 years’ experience behind him. He was associated with us for five years and was a senior member of the team. But accidents happen. His foot got pulled into the pipe by its powerful suction,” he added.

The divers from Barrackpore, who were summoned on Sunday itself, took almost a day to arrive, allegedly because of a roadblock on Durgapur Expressway.

“We were held up by an agitation on the highway and then we had to find our way to the project site from Purulia town,” said Ashis.

“Maybe the diver could have been saved had they reached by noon yesterday,” an employee of the power plant said.

Another set of divers has started for Purulia from Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh. Their job will possibly be reduced to extricating the body.

Baruah promised a Rs 5- lakh compensation for Mukesh’s wife in case he was found dead.