The toll in the attack of Maoist rebels on a launch in the Balimela reservoir, near the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border on June 29, has turned out to be higher than anticipated. While so far 33 bodies have been recovered, officials have declared five more personnel including two Greyhound commandos as missing.
"In view of five more persons remaining unaccounted for, we have decided to continue the search operations for some more time," said Akun Sabharwal, the Visakhapatnam district superintendent of police who has been heading the search operations since the Maoist attack drowned the launch in Balimela reservoir in Malkangiri district of Orissa.
With the eight bodies recovered on Tuesday, including five from a cabinet on the salvaged launch, the toll has risen to 33. The five missing persons include Greyhound commandos P Ravi of Warangal, Sudhir Babu from Prakasham and Manoj Kumar from Krishna and two home guards Krishna and Shashi both from Visakhapatnam district.
Significantly the missing cops were carrying huge quantities of ammunition. The search teams were still scraping the bottom of the lake around the area where the boat had capsized.
According to the police, of the 33 bodies recovered so far, only four had bullet injuries and the rest died due to drowning.
The launch, belonging to the Balimela hydro project, was brought to the banks of the reservoir on Tuesday, almost three days after it was located and retrieved using hot balloon technology.
Several weapons including 9 Ak-47s, one SLR, one mortar and three .303 rifle were recovered from the salvaged launch. Two of the bodies recovered on Tuesday were sent to Visakhapatnam on Wednesday after they were packed in coffins.
As 29 people had survived the attack, now it turns out that in all 67 personnel were travelling by the launch when it was ambushed by the Maoists.
Significantly, there were many veterans among the Greyhound commandos who perished. Some of them had even participated in two major encounters in the past. In one encounter the Maoist state committee secretary Madhav was killed, while 17 Maoists including some important functionaries were killed in the other incident at Kanchala in Chattisgarh in March this year.