Elephant Rescue Tragedy: Why Life Jackets Could Not Save The Journo And ODRAF Personnel?

Bhubaneswar: A precious life was lost in a boat tragedy which occurred under Mundali Barrage over Mahanadi on outskirts of the city on Friday. The casualty, senior Reporter of OTV, Arindam Das was covering a mission by Odisha Disaster Response Action Force (ODRAF) to rescue an elephant, when the mishap took place.

The channel’s cameraperson Pravat who was accompanying Arindam is undergoing treatment at SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack. He is stated to be critical. Apart from the scribes, there were six personnel of the ODRAF in the boat. One among them, a ODRAF rescuer is still missing, sources said.

The elephant was stranded in the water since morning. During the afternoon, when the ODRAF team, on a motor-operated inflatable rubber boat, approached closer to the jumbo, it made an attempt to evade the encounter. Within a fraction of a second, the boat slipped towards the barrage (gate) and capsized.

While all of them onboard were equipped with life jackets, the personal protective equipment was of no match to the strong current of a roaring Mahanadi. One of rescuers was swept away while five others, including two scribes drowned. They were retrieved from the water by local fisherfolk and other atop the bridge, sources said.

We spoke to Chief Fire Officer Sukant Sethi, a veteran of Odisha Fire Service, who said that life jackets are personal protective equipment used during rescue missions or similar operations in rivers. “If someone has to be rescued, we take lifebuoy along with and bring back the victim in it.”

“Life jacket helps you stay afloat and prevents water entering your mouth or nostrils. But if the water current is high, or in case the boat capsizes, the person instantaneously and involuntarily gulps down significant amount of water.”

Apart from this, the person who has a life jacket on, will need to make some moves with limbs to stay afloat, especially in precarious conditions as the one we saw today, he added. “Moreover, in situations like this, one needs to know swimming to make way to the shore. The current was strong, which led to the tragedy,” Sethi added.

Ommcom News spoke to noted Animal Rights and Forest activist Biswajit Mohanty, who shared the same opinion as Sethi. “The elephant would have gone towards the river bank on its own. The crowd dithered the tusker. It was scared and decided to remain in that spot rather than making an attempt on its own.”

The ODRAF boat’s engine failed, and it could not maintain the momentum given, the strong current of water pulling it inwards. The attempt made by ODRAF was a viable method to rescue the elephant, he said. “Had the engine not failed, the mission would have been successful. In still waters the life jacket would have worked. But amid strong current, the PPE was of no use, which led to the tragedy,” Mohanty added.

Sukant Sethi, Chief Fire Officer, Odisha

Biswajit Mohanty, Forest & Animal Rights Activist