In search of a road: Journey of deaths, rescue and survival in the high mountains of Huri

[ Bengia Ajum ]

KOLORIANG, 5 Aug: When the team of the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) first found the missing labourers in the deep forest of Huri, the labourers started to cry out of pure joy. Many of them could not even properly talk and were overwhelmed with emotion.

For the first time since the report of the 19 labourers of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) going missing made headlines, this daily spoke to a senior SDRF officer who was involved in the rescue operation. He narrated the fascinating story of how a group of labourers managed to survive in the deadly snake infested jungles of Huri, in Kurung Kumey district, after losing their way for 16 days.

The labourers had left the Huri camp, where they were working, for their homes on 5 July without informing their contractor, who had allegedly denied them leave of absence for Eid-al-Adha celebration.

 “They carried one torch, one matchbox packet, one lighter, two knives, one machete and some kilograms of rice. They thought they would reach Assam by just crossing a mountain near Huri,” informed 4th IRBn (SDRF Coy) Sub-inspector Licha Tath.

A team of the SDRF under his leadership was dispatched for the rescue operation, and Tath spoke with the labourers and got details of their ordeal.

The labourers were not acquainted with the area, due to which they got lost while fleeing. Tragedy first hit them when they were crossing a river.

“The main leader of the group drowned and died while crossing the river. Also, the matchbox packet got wet while crossing the river and was totally damaged. One lighter was also lost. From then onwards the problem started for them,” said Tath.

With no equipment to light a fire, their morale was hit hard. “They did not carry anything to eat, except a few kgs of rice. The labourers survived by eating wild banana trees. But this caused them dysentery and their health deteriorated,” said the SI.

One by one, the labourers started to die due to hunger and poor health.

“They left the dead bodies in camps made by them and kept on moving. The labourers later heard the sound of a blast carried out by the BRO for the construction of a road near Huri and followed the path leading to where the sound of the blast had come from. Somehow they reached a hill near the Korak river. If they had walked some more, they could have reached the hanging bridge,” Tath added.

The SDRF team provided food and first aid to the labourers. Also, they faced a difficult time while carrying out the rescue operation.

“First of all, the area is infested with deadly snakes and insects. Also, heavy rain made the rescue operation difficult. Local people were the first to sight the seven labourers who were first rescued. SDRF jawans carried them on our backs through the hill and safely returned to Huri base camp,” said Tath.

He also shared that the labourers fought among themselves after losing their way. Later, some formed different groups and moved in different directions. The SI credited the Kurung Kumey district administration, the SP, the locals and his team members for the success of the operation.

“It was a very tough experience. Felt happy to rescue some of the labourers. They were lucky to survive in such trying conditions. Felt sad for those who lost their lives,” added Tath.

The SDRF team closed the rescue operation on 31 July and returned to their base in Itanagar. Out of the 19 labourers, 10 were found alive, and five bodies were recovered. As per the statement of a rescued labourer, three workers drowned and their bodies have not been recovered yet.

One labourer is still reported to be missing.