Mahad bridge collapse: 29 missing persons may have washed into the sea, say officials

A British-era bridge collapsed on the Mumbai-Goa highway in Raigad district late on Tuesday. The death toll was not confirmed as two buses and several vehicles were reported to have been washed away. PTI reported that at least 22 people went missing after two state-run buses were swept away in flooded Savitri river.

Hindustan Times report, however, quoted official sources and said 29 people were missing and added that 20 vehicles were washed away. The bridge collapsed around midnight on Tuesday, but vehicles, unable to see the missing section in the dark, too fell into the river.

Officials said that due to strong river flow and heavy rains there was a possibility that victims could have been washed away into the sea. "The river's current is extremely strong, and with so many hours having passed before an aerial search and rescue operation was launched, it is most likely that the vehicles and people would have got washed away from the bridge vicinity," a DNA report quoted the Coast Guard as saying.

The incident took place near Mahad, 170km from Mumbai. Besides the buses, several other vehicles were also believed to have fallen into the swollen river. Two state transport corporation buses with 18 passengers and four crew members went missing in the tragedy, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, said in a tweet.

 Mahad bridge collapse: 29 missing persons may have washed into the sea, say officials

The bridge, constructed during British-era, caved in at around midnight on Tuesday. PTI

Maharashtra government on Thursday ordered a judicial probe into the Mahad bridge collapse tragedy. Fadnavis too had announced a probe into the Mahad bridge collapse tragedy while he was visiting the city to take stock of the situation. Wednesday's collapse brought focus back for the administration to conduct strength check of the bridges constructed in the pre-independence era and those over a-century-old. Fadnavis had also said that a state-wide safety audit of all old bridges after Wednesday's tragic incident would be conducted, adding that the rescue operations would go on until the search is over.

Speaking to The Times of India, a PWD official said, "Six bridges currently in use will be replaced."

According to the reports in ANI, two bodies were recovered on Thursday morning, raising the death toll to four.

Contrary to reports which said two bodies were recovered on Wednesday, additional SP of Raigad district Sachin Patil said no bodies had been found. "That was a false alarm, no dead body has been recovered till now. That (report of recovery of bodies) was a false call," he said later on Wednesday evening.

Earlier on Wednesday, Raigad Collector Sheetal Ugale had said bodies of two men were fished out from the river by rescuers.


Rescue ops

An NDRF rescue boat overturned, while carrying out a rescue operation, as the team members battled heavy rains, reports India Today.

According to ANI, the NDRF team in Ahmednagar has rescued 13 people and is in the process of rescuing eight more.

Earlier on Thursday, the NDRF commander had said that there was no need of more teams at the moment, according to ANI.

A 300 kg magnet was lowered into the swollen Savitri River on Thursday morning to trace the two buses
carrying 22 people who were swept away by the river after the collapse.

Navy divers resumed operations on Thursday morning, a Defence spokesperson said, adding, that Chetak helicopter of Coast Guard also began sortie of the affected area.

A crane lowered a 300 kgs magnet into the river, with the hope of tracing the missing vehicles.
Something has gotten stuck to the magnet and efforts are on to pull it out of the river, a local official said.

Patil said 28 Marine Commandos, over 100 jawans from National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and 25 personnel from the Coast Guard were promptly pressed into search and rescue operation. He said local divers and rafters had also joined the massive operation which was called off (after 14 hours) for the night. Heavy rains hampered the search for the missing people and vehicles.

"We faced a lot of problems due to inclement weather and darkness. We will resume the search and rescue operation on a war footing in the morning," the police officer said. Another senior official said there are slim chances of finding any survivors and "but we will continue our efforts".

Fadnavis at Raigad_PTI

Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis at the collapse site on Wednesday. PTI

The Coast Guard, NDRF and the Indian Navy began combing the river early on Wednesday, looking for signs of vehicles that were washed away.

Quoting an NDRF official, Hindustan Times reported, “Something has got stuck in one of the hooks we had put in the river from the new bridge. But it is not clear if that is a vehicle as we have not been able to penetrate the surface due to the strong current in the river.” “The current is same as it was on Wednesday. Our officials are also trying to trace the vehicles and the people in boats up to three kilometers down the spot.We hope to recover the vehicles and some people by today evening,” the official added.

However, according to district officials, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) along with an engineering consultancy had visited the old bridge in May and declared it safe. Following Rajnath Singh's orders collector Ugale had said, "Two choppers of Navy and Coast Guard were involved in the operation while two choppers of IAF have carried out reconnaissance."

The Coast Guard had deployed a Chetak helicopter at about 8:15 am. A Seaking 42C all-weather aircraft with a diving team was also pressed into service by the Navy.

Four teams of NDRF, comprising of 40 deep divers each had joined the Coast Guard and other agencies engaged in rescue and relief operations.

"As soon as we got information about the tragic incident, we dispatched two teams from Pune and two teams from Mumbai who are searching for missing persons in the swollen river," a NDRF official monitoring the rescue operations,had said.

Savitri is one of the five rivers which originate in Mahabaleshwar in Satara district. After reviewing the rescue work, Fadnavis announced at Mahad that the Government will carry out a safety audit of all old bridges in the state.

"An in-depth inquiry will be conducted into today's incident," Fadnavis said.

Fadnavis, accompanied by PWD Minister Chnadrakant Patil and opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil of Congress, conducted an aerial survey of the area.

"An eyewitness informed us that he saw a few buses, cars and vehicles being swept away in the river. After corroborating his statement with the State Road Transport Corporation, we found two of its buses have not reached their destinations. Therefore, we apprehend those two buses were the same which were swept away in the river," the collector said.

According to district officials, one of the buses was proceeding to Mumbai from Jaigad in Raigad, and the other was on its way to Borivali from Rajapur. Fadnavis, who was monitoring the situation, had said, "There were two parallel bridges, one a new one and one built during the British era. The old one collapsed. The primary reason seems to be the high pressure caused due to flooding of river Savitri."

Lok Sabha discusses collapse

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Fadnavis and was briefed about the tragedy. "The PM offered all help in rescue and relief operation," Fadnavis said. Home Minister Rajnath Singh had informed the Lok Sabha that two helicopters had also been deployed and the Centre was giving all possible help to the state administration in the rescue efforts.

"What happened is very painful and unfortunate. It happened at around 11.30 pm. Two passenger buses and four other vehicles are feared to have been washed away in the river," he said.

Singh had made the statement after Vinayak Raut of Shiv Sena, raised the issue, saying the incident happened as the bridge remained operational even though it was considered unsafe and another bridge over the river was constructed by the state government.

Raut asked the government to present a report about such bridges and ensure that such tragic incidents do not recur.

Goa PWD Minister Sudin Dhavalikar had faulted government engineers for negligence which could have led to the collapse of the bridge. Speaking to reporters at the state legislative assembly complex, Dhavalikar had said: "Negligence cannot be of the Maharashtra government. It is a department's mistake, engineers' mistake."

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Aug 04, 2016 13:44:42 IST