Mandi (Himachal Pradesh): Rescuers scouring the Beas river where a wall of water washed away 24 engineering students are battling strong rapids and low visibility. A special underwater camera to locate the bodies is also to be deployed.
The search parties from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the army are struggling to locate the remaining 19 of the 24 students and a tour operator who were washed away in the glacial-fed Beas river. Only five bodies have been found till now.
Officials involved in the massive search operation said it would be difficult to locate the survivors, if any, as the river bed is rocky and full of silt.
"Our divers are basically facing the problem of poor visibility," Jaideep Singh, commanding officer of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), told IANS.
"A special underwater camera, which will be soon deployed, will help the divers in searching the river bed," he said.
A total of 20 divers of NDRF and 18 of the army have been involved in the search operation, focusing on the long downstream stretch of the river from the Larji hydropower project dam to the Pandoh dam.
A team of 84 NDRF people and personnel from the army, the Sashastra Seema Bal and the state police are involved in the dawn-to-dusk search operation.
"Our jawans on the ground are trying to locate the bodies either trapped under the boulders or sunk in the silt," Singh added.
According to him, in the early morning hours, when the water level in the river automatically increases, the outflow from the Pandoh Dam is increased so that water in the river recedes.
The body of Debashish Bose, recovered Tuesday morning, surfaced as the water level came down at that point.
Injuries on his body indicated that he died when he hit boulders and his body got stuck in the rocks.
Rescue officials said the victims might be standing on the rocks to get themselves photographed or enjoying the bubbling water when suddenly a strong rapid drifted them away.
"It seems the head of most of the victims crashed against rocks, which may have been a factor in their apparent drowning and subsequent death," said an official, who didn`t wish to be identified.
A local rafter said in the summer, when the glaciers in the catchment of the river are thawing, normally the current is strong. "Moreover, the sudden release of water by the hydropower project authorities created flood-like situation," he said.
He said the locals, who are familiar the local topography, could analyse early the threat posed by nature.
Singh said there are possibilities that the bodies, after they get bloated, would automatically start surfacing in the water by Thursday.
Locals, who are assisting in search operation, said chances of recovering the bodies is challenging as at some points the river is narrow and steep.
As many as 50-odd shell-shocked parents and other family members of the 19 missing students, who reached here, are desperately awaiting to hear about their kin.
Some of them are beseeching locals to know about their kin`s whereabouts. Every morning they gather at the Pandoh Dam, keeping an eye on the flow of the river.
More than 60 students and faculty members of the V.N.R. Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology in Hyderabad were on an excursion to Manali.
Some of them were getting themselves photographed on the bank of the river Sunday evening when a wall of water washed them away.
"The river level suddenly increased due to release of water from the Larji hydropower project dam, located near the accident spot, without warning," a witnesses said.
The police have registered a case against the hydropower project authorities for causing death by negligence and endangering life of others.
The case has been registered on the basis of eye-witness accounts that the hooter was not blown by the project officials before releasing the water into the river.