Mandi (Himachal Pradesh): The water level in the Beas river was lowered Saturday morning for the first time to locate the bodies of the still missing 16 students and one tour operator who were washed away in strong currents near here last week, rescue officials said. But no bodies could be traced for the second consecutive day Saturday.
In a massive operation, over 550 rescue workers continued their search for the sixth day. Over 50 divers of the NDRF, the Army, the Navy and the ITBP are involved in the search operation. Fifteen divers from Hyderabad also joined in Saturday.
"The water level in the three-km river stretch near the accident spot was minimised at the lowest ebb for almost two hours by controlling inflow into it and but no major success has been achieved," Jaideep Singh, commanding officer of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), told IANS.
He said the focus of Saturday's operation was to locate the bodies trapped under boulders. "Now we are sure, at least 95 percent, that the bodies are no more trapped in this three-km area."
The rescuers will Sunday deploy side scan sonar which captures pictures of the riverbed to locate the bodies. It will focus on the 15-km downstream stretch of the river from the Larji hydropower project dam to the Pandoh dam, Singh added.
Official sources said an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), deployed by the NDRF to locate the bodies, couldn't operate fully due to some flaws in the satellite link.
In the first four days of the operation, eight bodies were recovered, most of them either trapped under the rocks or buried in the riverbed silt within a three-km radius of the accident spot Thalaut on the Chandigarh-Manali national highway 21 in Mandi district.
About 25 parents and family members of the missing students, who are camping here since Monday, are losing hope of getting the bodies of their kin.
"They are doing their best but it seems retrieving the bodies is quite tough and challenging. But we are still hopeful," Krishna Reddy, father of missing Rishtia Reddy, said.
Andhra Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister N. Chinna Rajappa Saturday reached the mishap site to monitor the ongoing search operation.
Telangana Home Minister Nayani Narasimha Reddy, camping here, said he was satisfied with the operation. He added: "The parents, who are having some hope of finding their loved ones, are shattered today (Saturday)."
"Our divers are basically facing problem of poor visibility. The river bed is full of mud and silt. There are also big boulders and rocks. It's only through feeling that they are recognising the objects lying beneath," National Disaster Management Authority vice chairman M. Shashidhar Reddy told IANS.
The tragedy occurred when a group of students from an engineering college in Hyderabad, on a trip to Manali, were swept away Sunday evening when water was released into the river without warning from a nearby hydropower project.
Police have registered a case against the Larji hydropower project authorities for causing death by negligence and endangering the life of people.
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has issued directions to all hydropower project authorities to take the necessary steps before releasing water which includes use of hooters and announcements on loudspeakers mounted on vehicles.