Three female students drowned when a boat with at least 34 students on board capsized off the Dahanu coast in this Maharashtra district on Saturday morning, officials said.
A massive search and rescue operation was launched and by late evening, 31 students of the K.L. Ponda High School & Junior College were rescued from the Arabian Sea waters.
Bodies of all three girls were recovered and the deceased identified as Sonal Surti, Sanskriti Mayavanshi and Jahnvi Surti, all 17 years old and hailing from Ambedkar Nagar area of Dahanu, Palghar Superintendent of Police Manjunath Singe told IANS.
A massive search is underway to find any remaining unaccounted student amidst fears of casualty figures increasing in the incident that took place around 5 kms in the sea off the Parnaka Beach here.
The 34 students were out on an annual college picnic in a double-decked boat named ‘Dahanu King’ which topple, Singe added.
Even the lone boatman, Mahesh Ambre, who was injured in the incident, has been rescued and undergoing treatment in a Dahanu hospital.
According to an eyewitness account, the tragedy apparently happened when some students crowded on one side of the boat to click selfies, resulting in loss of balance and the vessel capsizing.
President Ram Nath Kovind, who arrived in Mumbai this afternoon on a two-day visit, expressed grief over the boat tragedy in the state.
“Anguished to hear of boat carrying schoolchildren capsizing in Dahanu, Maharashtra. The state government has rescued most of the passengers is making efforts to trace those still missing. My condolences to the bereaved families,” the President said in a tweet.
The boat is owned by Parth Ambire and Mahendra Ambire, who are being booked under charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder for the tragedy.
The boat had been recently refurbished and hired out for joyrides in the seas, but it was not clear whether the student picknickers were given life-jackets or not, officials said.
The tragedy occurred during a low-tide, enabling the rescuers to reach the site quickly, and “save precious lives”, said an ICG spokesperson.
Hundreds of parents of the victims crowded the Parnaka Beach, many wailing and crying to know the fate of their children since the tragedy occurred around 11.30 am.
The Indian Coast Guard from Maharashtra and Gujarat helped the local police and maritime authorities in the combined sea and air operations, besides the local fishing community.
The ICG diverted at least three ships and two aircraft to the site to rescue the victims, an official said.