D Ramsudhakar, Vishakapatnam branch manager of United India Insurance Company, saw and smelled the smoke and woke up his co-passengers in coach S-10. The adjoining coach S-11 was burning.
He said, “I am a poor sleeper on train journeys and I heard a loud sound around 4.15am. I saw flames from the electrical panel near the door of the coach. I immediately shouted fire and pulled the alarm chain before running towards the door at the other end of the coach.”
As the train stopped, Sudhakar heard someone shouting from S-11. He climbed back, dragged an elderly couple and pushed them off the train to safety. “They asked me to look for their daughter but by then, the smoke was so thick I could hardly breathe and had to jump off to save myself,” he said.
“I later learnt that the daughter, who was going to Chennai for treatment, had died,” Sudhakar said.
One battle this soldier lost
“Engulfed by the blaze, I saw this six-year-old boy crying out for help,” said Indian Army jawan S Kumar, 35, who was returning home in Tirunelveli district.
“I was in the adjoining S-10 coach and am yet to recover from the shock,” he said. On being alerted about the fire, which was about to spread to our compartment, some passengers pulled the chain to stop the speeding train. As the train came to a halt, we jumped down to safety but saw a tragedy unfolding before our eyes. This boy was caught in the fire and his parents ran towards him to pull him out. I and other passengers rushed to assist. But it was all in vain. He was charred to death and we stood helplessly,” Kumar said.
‘Many must have suffocated’
Shanti Devanagan and S Devanagan, a middle-aged couple from Chennai was returning from Delhi after winning a case in the Supreme Court.
“We were in another compartment and didn’t know why the train had stopped. It was only after we got off that we realised what a ghastly tragedy had taken place."
“We saw the coach burning and thick smoke coming out of the windows. Several windows were closed and shuttered. It is because there was light rain along the way that many passengers had pulled down the iron shutters. So, the smoke could not go out and many passengers must have felt suffocated to death,” Shanti told mediapersons in Chennai.