Pathiramanal, Alappuzha: Thirteen tourists, including a six-month-old baby, had a lucky escape from a houseboat that was engulfed in fire near the popular destination Pathiramanal in Kerala's Alappuzha district, on Thursday. Meanwhile, one of the speed boats that was being rushed for the rescue operations too sank midway!
A likely tragedy was avoided as the accident happened in the shallow area of the backwaters around Pathiramanal islet. Besides, prompt, daring response from the boat crew mattered in saving the lives of the tourist band comprising four men, six women and three children. The group was from Mattanur in Kannur district in the northern part of the state.
The houseboat, named Oceana, had caught fire at noon.
Some travellers managed to escape as they jumped into the backwaters. One person jumped into the water while holding on to the baby.
Speed and passenger boats were deployed to rescue them from water. Amid the frenzy, one of the speed boats proceeding to the spot sank. The tourists who were already rescued from the waters were then taken to safety on the passenger boat of the Water Transport Department.
The lucky escapees are all relatives. They are: Mohammed Fazal, Rishad, Tahira, Ayesha, Rishid, Saniya, Nishuva, Alshira, Noorjahan, and children Isam Mariyam, Isan, Isaak were on board the houseboat. (The series excludes the infant.)
They had started the trip from the boat jetty at Kavanattinkara in Kumarakom around 11am, while the accident happened around 1pm.
The fire was first spotted at the centre of the boat. The crew were busy with the lunch preparations. As the frightened travellers screamed out, srank (driver) Saji veered the boat towards the area with sandbars.
Another crew, Vechoor native Karthikeyan, jumped into the lagoon and stood chest-deep in the backwaters to get hold of tourists taking the plunge. These two acts proved to be crucial in the rescue mission.
The speed boat, which was rushed in from Kayipuram jetty for the rescue operation, sank in the lake.
Though the crew tried to douse the fire, strong winds proved to be an obstacle. The crew even threw the gas cylinder into the lake.
The passengers lost their belongings, including bags, mobile phone, money and even driving licence.
A short circuit likely caused the accident, according to preliminary analysis. As per initial estimates the losses are to the tune of Rs 50 lakh.
The boat belonged to Siji, a native of Thalayazham in Alappuzha district. He had first taken the boat on lease from a Muhamma native and bought the boat from him only six months ago.
Fir force units from Cherthala and Alappuzha had reached the spot along with the Muhamma Police. Kumarakom SI G Rajan Kumar and team also arrived.
On January 8, another houseboat was completely gutted in a fire at Marthadam backwaters near Kuttanad.
The houseboat with a British tourist couple – Pete and Alexandria – was anchored near the shore for lunch break at 1:30 pm when the crew noticed smoke billowing from the lower deck of the boat.
Immediately, the tourists jumped out of the boat. The crew tried to douse the flame with fire extinguishers but in vain. The boat was completely gutted in the fire though no one was hurt.
Though Fire and Rescue Services personnel from Alappuzha had reached the spot, the delay in operating the water pump drew flak.
There is no well-provisioned fire-fighting mechanism in the district, according to tour operators.