The wreckage of a brownish-grey Maruti Ertiga and a selfie is all that remains from what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime for seven friends in the Nilgiris. Five men were found dead and two severely injured on Wednesday evening, when their car was found deep in a gorge along the Kalhatty-Masinagudi road in Ooty. Officials suspect the driver could have lost control of the car while navigating the notoriously tricky road.
The deceased have been identified as Ravi Verma (38), Ibrahim (36), Jayakumar (37), Amarnath (36), and Judes Anto Kavin (33). Two others -- Ramarajesh and Arun, both of them 37 years old, have been admitted to Coimbatore Medical College Hospital and their condition is said to be critical.
The group had checked into the Sterling Fern Hill resort on the evening of September 30 and had set out sightseeing at around 8.45 am the next day, October 1. Their scheduled checkout from the hotel was at 12 noon on October 2.
When they didnâ€™t return from their outing by the designated time on October 2, the hotel employees alerted the police that the men and the car were missing.
â€śUsually clients who come for sightseeing do not inform us where they were going. So our concern was if the men went somewhere to trek and got stuck without knowing the path. Since mobile signal is patchy, GPS will not work and it is possible to get lost along the way,â€ť an employee from the hotel told TNM on the condition of anonymity.
Concerned that the group might have lost its way in the dense forest trail, the hotel employees rang up the Nilgiris Superintendent of Police (SP) office.
Speaking to TNM, Nilgiris SP Shanmuga Priya said, â€śWe received the call from the hotel at around 12.10 pm on October 2. We then alerted the Anti-Poaching Watchers (APW) wing and began the search operations.â€ť
When the hotel employees told the police that they had tried calling all seven men several times and that all their phones were not reachable, the police decided that tracking the call records should be the starting point of the search operations. They believed that this could give them a clue as to the approximate location of the group, allowing them to focus their search at a particular point.
The call records showed them that all the cell phones switched off when they neared Hullatty, around 4 km away from the spot where they found the wreckage.
Armed with this clue, the police started combing the region, known for its dense forests and dangerous hairpin bends. The police suspected that they might have got lost along Kalhatty Road, which is a shortcut to Masinagudi from Ooty, since the gradient of the road is steeper than normal.
The SP added that this was why they restricted vehicles from other districts from using that road. Moreover, he said, the speed limit on the road is restricted to 20 kilometres per hour.
â€śAround 3.45 pm, we spotted the wreckage near the 35th hairpin bend on the Kalhatty-Masinagudi Road. The stench emanating from the spot lead us to the wreckage,â€ť the SP said.
Initially the police wondered why the families had not alerted them earlier, considering that they could not contact the victims for over 24 hours. However, the families were used to all seven friends going on trips every six months, ignoring the outside world.
â€śThe family members also tried reaching them, but could not since the phones lost signal. But they did not suspect anything bad, since the group used to go on trips every six months and when they go, they had minimal contact with the outside world. They wouldnâ€™t have imagined this end for their dear ones,â€ť the SP said.