Vivek Chhetri, TT, 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.