Our own eyewitness account of the disaster in Uttarakhand in June 2013
It was Friday the 21st of June 2013. We received a phone call from the office of National Disaster Response Force. The elite organization was formed to respond to the calamities witnessed by the nation. We were called upon in support of its relief and rescue operations at Kedarnath, which witnessed the fury of Mother Nature.
We had a notice of less than 12 hours to pack and move to Dehradun. A rescue support team of four from ideaForge was formed. The team spun into action in preparation. The families were informed about our task in hand.
Way to Dehradun
The rescue team reached New Delhi in the wee hours of Saturday to proceed further for Dehradun by road. Blessings of the elders were required for such a task where it is known that we are going to face the unknown.
The Jolly Grant Airport was buzzing with helicopters the MI -17s and ALHs. They were working round the clock with bringing back the injured survivors from the devastated regions of Kedarnath for medical treatment. The food and clothing were also prepared and well stocked to be heli dropped. It was saddening to see the state of survivors who had managed to stay alive. They were in absolute shock. The ideaForge team was mentally preparing itself for the worst possible scenes. We tried our tent pitching skills expecting longer and rainy days and nights. The dry rations were bought for our journey. WE KNOW THAT WE MAY BE ON OUR OWN!!
The passenger manifest was prepared. Our names were written. THE HELI WAS READY!! With high hopes of a successful completion of the task in hand we boarded TAIL NO – Z 3370 – MI 17.
On – Board Z 3370
It was not a new experience for the crew of ideaforge in a chopper. But the cause was!! We were accompanied by TV reporters and NDRF personnel. It was a bird’s eye view of the scenic beauty of the hill tops which gradually revealed the devastation caused by the cloud burst. After initial buzz inside the helicopter the scene underneath brought in a strange silence amongst the passengers of what to expect on ground. WE WERE PREPARED!!
We landed at Gupt Kashi and had to immediately board another ALH which would take us to Jungle Chatti. We were dropped at Jungle Chatti… a make shift helipad… In air we weren’t sure where we were landing. The Chetaks and ALHs were in the evacuation process.
Ground Zero – Jungle Chatti
The old… The injured… the dead!! Scenes were heartbreaking! The Indian Army’s Special Forces, The Aviation Wing and the NDRF personnel were working tirelessly in evacuation process. Two hundred and Fifty Two was the headcount of evacuation at that spot. Evacuated in a span of two and a half hours. No more… they were the last!! The make shift helipad served its purpose. Now it is our turn to search for the survivors. The terrain was thick jungle with proximity of heavy rains any time. The task in hand was to identify movement across the river.
No hesitation!! We were acting with never before speed and agility, doing back to back flights. Entire Jungle Chatti area scanned, survivors located & confirmatory sorties done till our satisfaction that no one is left.
Night at Jungle Chatti
The tents were pitched as no more heli movements. We rested. We prepared for the next day. A plan of action was made. Adjoining areas of Jungle chatti were scanned on the next day. Any doubt regarding a possible survivor on the most inaccessible areas was resolved by getting a closer look using NETRA.
A visit to Rambara
Next day was planned for the higher areas of Rambara, further up from Jungle Chatti. We set out on foot with our systems to locate the survivors. IF ANY!? The route was filled with debris. Few dead bodies too!! The cries of the dead men, women and children were coming as images as we jumped over few dead bodies and witnessed the destructions…there was absolute silence amidst the roar of the river below…We had to return, as the rain Gods were awakened once again. With the weather forecast of one more cloud burst hanging over our heads. It was a tough decision to make as to stay back or move down. We decided to move!!
The Journey of a Lifetime
The team was met with spine chilling climbs and slippery slopes! A test of tenacity, team work, endurance and most of all a Test of Will power!! The team crossed varied terrain with heavier bags and tired legs. Had to cross over dead bodies too! Washed away with the water… struck between boulders. This was never ending!! Just as we thought that it’s over… we were told that it was just half way through… Throughout our journey we witnessed the fury of Mother Nature… her anger…her power… The scenes at Gaurikund were equally horrific… Another 6 Kms to go…
As our tired legs were in motion… the eyes focused on every step on danger… we entered our final destination at 1820 Hrs… Big Cheers and hugs were shared amongst the team… for its time that we are in the safe zone.
The next day’s tea was a refresher with the beauty of Gupt Kashi unveiling… reminded us to contemplate on the journey we took… We prayed for our brethren who lost their lives… who lost their loved ones…We truly wished that the call was made earlier… Mankind can never fight or prevent the might of Nature… its power…its rage…but the same Nature has taught us to protect ourselves… may be through technological advancements…early warning systems…reconnaissance and surveillance systems such as UAVs. Unlike the developed nations India is now in the phase of transition…accepting the changes… WE ARE PREPARED NOW… AS EVER BEFORE… TO RETURN HOME!!