According to the district administration, the first escort vehicle (a Scorpio SUV) of the President’s convoy went out of control and plummeted nearly 150 feet down a gorge near the Mariam Grotto after breaking through the parapet. Five security personnel in the vehicle received injuries in various parts of their bodies. They were taken to the Kurseong sub-divisional hospital for first aid and then referred to the Siliguri sadar hospital.
“The first escort vehicle of the President’s convoy with five people met with an accident near Sonada this morning. The injured are presently admitted in a Siliguri hospital after being administered first aid in Kurseong hospital,” said Anurag Srivastava, the Darjeeling DM.
|President Pranab Mukherjee's convoy meets with accident in Darjeeling, 5 injured|
The President’s convoy of 20-25 cars had left Raj Bhawan at 10.30am amid thick fog and rain.
At the head of the convoy was the advance vehicle followed by a pilot and jammer car. Following the President’s vehicle were two escort cars and the one at the front met with the accident.
The chief minister was behind the second escort car and her vehicle was being trailed by the remainder of the convoy carrying ministers of state, central government officials and journalists from Delhi and Kolkata.
Dipesh Subba, a civic policeman who was on duty near the accident spot, said, “I was on duty here since eight in the morning. I was posted near a bend and could not see the accident but I heard a loud noise just 30 feet ahead. By that time the President’s car had already passed. I ran to where the sound had come from to find a Scorpio down in the gorge and the chief minister giving directions on a microphone,” he said.
It was Subba who first reached the victims with four policemen trailing him. “I told the police personnel to follow me and reached the spot first. I found five dazed and injured people sitting beside the vehicle which was hanging precariously on a small tree,” he said.
The chief minister personally oversaw the rescue operation conducted by the state and civic police including locals. And appreciating the effort made, she announced rewards for the rescue team. “Everyone has helped and with promptness. Thanks to my rescue team. I promise you the state government will reward you for your effort,” she said.
The President too did not continue the drive downhill until the rescue operation was completed. He stayed at the Kurseong tourist lodge and called the chief minister twice for updates. Banerjee did not go the Kurseong sub-divisional hospital but sent her chief security officer and Darjeeling police officials to enquire how the injured were faring. She started for Bagdogra airport only after being informed the five were out of danger. (EOIC)
Vivek Chhetri for Telegraph writes
Darjeeling, July 15: Pratap Subba, 29, was luck by 30 steps today.Subba, a journalist with a local daily in Darjeeling, was walking along the isolated stretch of the Hill Cart Road at Sonada, when he saw the President's convoy coming from the opposite direction.
"My colleague Sanjeev Mohra was with me. Four to five cars of the cavalcade passed by me and Sanjeev. Suddenly, I heard a loud thud. I thought a shooting boulder had landed on the highway. I looked back and found that a car had swerved off the road and disappeared," said Subba.
"I was standing just 30ft from where the car had gone down the slope. I would have been hit had I walked a bit slower. The thought made me shiver," he said.
"I was walking from my house at Gorabari to Sonada as vehicles were stopped because of the President's convoy. I thought of walking to Sonada about 1km away so that I could catch a taxi from the local stand."
Immediately after the incident, the chief minister's car stopped.
"She alighted from the car and told everyone to call local people. Someone handed over a mike to the chief minister and she started coordinating the rescue operation," said Subba.
He ran towards Gorabari, about 250 meters away, and returned with local people.
"Since the slope was very steep, civic police personnel and other law enforcement officials and the local people tied two ropes, which those in the convoy had with them, to the railway track (that runs parallel to the road) and started sliding down the slope," said the journalist.
Subba, too, was among those who went 200ft down a steep slope holding the rope.
However, even before the rope was tied to the tracks, Dipesh Subba, a civic police volunteer, had slid down and reached the car, along with four to five policemen.
Dipesh said: "The occupants of the car had managed to come out and were standing on the slope. One of them asked for my mobile phone but he could not get through with the call."
Dipesh was on duty about 100 meters away from the site of the accident but he did not see the car rolling down the hill because of the bend. The car was not visible from the road and later it emerged that it had got stuck on a tree.
With the ropes fixed, about 30 people reached the car. "Some people held on to the victims, while others pushed them from behind to reach the road. The one with injury to the hand couldn't walk properly," said Pratap.
The injured were rushed to Kurseong subdivisional hospital and the chief minister left only after all the injured had been sent to the hospital.
Subba said a similar accident had taken place in the area a few years back, killing five. "Although it was terrifying that I was so close to the site, I am happy that I could play a part in the rescue. The chief minister thanked the local people before leaving," he added.
All this happened just after the following article was published in Darjeeling local media :-
Writes: Arbin Angla Subba
The road network in Darjeeling is improving, especially the highways and we'd give due credit to the authorities who are helping to make our road networks better. However, here is a warning learned from a near accident.
While driving to Siliguri earlier this week, it was raining slightly and I was on my way to Siliguri. near Sukna Army Cantt my vehicle suddenly lost control and slipped. I was driving slow enough, so I was surprised. Thank God, I got control of my vehicle, and I drove on.
Turned out, I was not the only one who had faced this ordeal. That day from near Garidhura to Sukna, I saw four accidents, and everyone had one thing to say, the roads become too slippery once it starts to rain.
So, I did a little research, and this is what I found, in 2005 BBC had reported that, "Stone Mastic Asphalt (SMA) - one of the most popular road surfaces in the UK - can cause skidding on roads. Eleven English authorities in the BBC survey reported problems with 'early life skid resistance' - which means that in the first few months after the surface is laid road users need to drive as if they are in wet conditions, regardless of the weather.
The Highways Agency is so concerned it has commissioned a series of skid tests on the surface. The tests follow a series of accidents across the country where skid resistance has been called in to question... Paul Watters says: "There's concern that after it's laid, it's actually more slippery than perhaps the surface you're replacing. And that's a very big issue for drivers. So we need to really bottom this out because at the moment drivers, if they see a new surface, they assume it's perfectly good and far better than what was there. With Stone Mastic Asphalt, that isn't the case. The road in fact behaves like a wet road, even when it's dry." [Details: http://bbc.in/29L3QLD]
Following two nasty accidents in Western Australia, this is what their media reported, "After the section of road was resurfaced with Stone Mastic Asphalt (SMA), numerous accidents have led to complaints about the surface being too slippery in wet weather. Two reviews were conducted in 2005 and 2007 on the suitability of SMA in certain locations. They concluded there were no systemic safety issues with the surface. This has not quelled the fears of some residents who use Samford Road to travel between Samford and Ferny Grove. A firefighter who attended the recent crashes believes the Ferny Hills side of the road over the Samford Range needs to be “torn up and replaced.”
“You only need to spit on it and it becomes as slippery,” they said." [Details: http://www.thewesterner.com.au/?p=2538]
Often India tends to borrow technology that is actually outdated and banned in the western countries, so it wouldn't be surprising if the Govt of India introduced these types of road surfaces without actually conducting any research.
Hence, we would like to WARN our readers, and request them, please DRIVE VERY SLOW as it rains if you are on a Mastic road... and more importantly please SHARE this article, as you could perhaps save someone's life by sharing the information it contains.