22 of a family killed as van falls into Godavari

22 of a family killed as van falls into Godavari

Twenty two pilgrims—nine of them women and seven children—were killed when the van they were travelling in fell into the Godavari river in the early hours of Saturday after hitting the railings of Dowleswaram Cotton Barrage near Rajahmundry, 427 km from here.

A 10-year-old boy, Eegala Kiran, was the lone survivor of the accident.

The deceased, all close relatives, belonged to the Achyutapuram village of the Visakhapatnam district. They were returning from Tirumala via Vijayawada when the driver, also the owner of the MUV, lost control of the overcrowded van and hit the railings of the narrow barrage. The vehicle plunged into the concrete bed of the barrage some 50 feet deep.

Of the 23 persons in the van, 21 died on the spot, while two siblings were taken to Rajahmundry government hospital, where Kiran survived but his sister died. The doctors say Kiran is out of danger.

“I was sitting in my father’s lap when the accident occurred. He tried to guard me and my sister when the vehicle was falling. I wriggled out through the window and ran for help. I tried to pull up my sister, who was alive and crying loudly, but the mangled seats prevented me,” Kiran told mediapersons at the hospital. Local leaders have announced that they will adopt the boy.

Andhra Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister N Chinna Rajappa reached the spot and supervised the rescue operations. Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu spoke with East Godavari district officials, directing them to keep an eye on vehicles carrying passengers beyond their capacity.

“The MUV was meant for 12, but was carrying 23 people. Imagine the plight of the driver and the impact of the crowd on his reflexes,” he said.

The deceased have been identified as Eegala Apparao, Rambabu, Kondamma, Prasad, Kanaka, Kosamma, Gopi, Sai, Annapurna,Raju, Raman, Venkat, Seenamma, Chittema, Namith, Karthik, Navya, Pavan, Sandhya, Venakata Lakshmi and Nookalamma.
“Prima facie evidence suggests that driver Apparao might have fallen asleep at the wheel,” he added.

Rajahmundry Urban SP S Harikrishna said the police have identified the vehicle in the CCTV footage of a nearby toll gate and said the accident must have taken place between 1 am and 2 am.  Dowleswaram Circle Inspector Sivaji Raju said morning-walkers were alerted by Kiran, and called the police around 6 am. “The girl was alive and pleading for help when we got down to the concrete embankment, which has only knee-deep water. By the time we rescued her and sent her to hospital, she had died,” said a constable. A pall of gloom descended on the village to which the family belonged.

“Eegala Apparao was a seasoned driver. We can’t believe he fell asleep at the wheel. The road suddenly narrows down at the accident spot. One must blame the government,” said Srinivas, a neighbour.

The bodies were sent back to Achyutapuram in three special vehicles on Saturday evening after post-mortem at Rajahmundry. The mangled heap of the van was lifted with the help of a crane.

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