At least 14 collegians from Pune — a teacher and students including 10 girls, who were part of a group of 130 on a picnic — drowned on Monday in the Arabian Sea at Murud beach in Maharashtra’s Raigad district, around 150 km south of Mumbai, police said.
The toll is expected to rise as some more students are still reported missing.
The Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard deployed three helicopters, including a Chetak and a Seaking chopper, and an Interceptor 117 speedboat, while ICG ship Achook was diverted to the area for ‘locate and rescue’ operation, a defence spokesperson said.
Police divers and local villagers also jumped in for the combined mega rescue operation.
Among the victims who met their accidental death at sea were at least 10 girls, while six students, including four girls, were rescued and rushed to hospitals.
The cause of the massive tragedy, which occurred around 3 p.m., was still not clear.
However, local people speculated that some of the students ventured too far out into the waters and were probably caught by the tidal currents, which swept them away.
The students were part of a group of 130 from Maharashtra Cosmopolitan Education Society’s Abeda Inamdar College and had come to the picturesque Murud beach for an annual picnic, Superintendent of Police Suvez Haque said.
MCES president P.A. Inamdar told IANS that the 130 students, of the first, second and third year BSc (Computer Science) and BCA (Computer Applications) courses, were on a college-sponsored picnic accompanied by at least half a dozen staff members and other support staff.
“We are shocked by this tragedy. We are making all efforts to help the students and their families with the help of local villagers and police. A team of our trustees has already left Pune for Raigad for rendering further assistance,” Inamdar told IANS.
He said the process of informing their families was underway and 10 ambulances have been dispatched for relief work.
Aged between 19 and 23 years, the victims were mostly Muslim students of BSc (Computer Science) of the minority-run institution in the Azam Campus of Pune’s Camp area.
They were identified as Rafiya Ansari, Shafiya Ansari, Sumaiya Ansari, Sheefa Kazi, Supriya Pan, Sana Shaikh, Swapnali Salgar, Sajeed Choudhary, Iftekar Shaikh, Samreen Shaikh, Mohammed Ansari, Farin Sayyed, and college teacher Rajlaxmi Pandugayala.
One person, Saif Madki, was identified as among those reported missing in the treacherous waters off Murud beach which has witnessed many such tragedies in the past.
Rescue operations were underway in full swing by locals and police with help from the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard.
Meanwhile, thousands of tourists and locals gathered at the beach where the bodies of the victims were lined up even as wailing parents and stunned relatives rushed to the college campus in Pune or to Murud.
Murud village is globally renowned for the famous 15th century sea monument — the imposing Murud-Janjira Fort, around one km off the coast in the Arabian Sea and approachable only by boat.