By Ayaskant Das
New Delhi, Sep 16 (IANS) An Indian Army officer who drowned during a kayaking expedition in Congo last week may have died while trying to save two of his colleagues, Army officials said in New Delhi on Monday.
Lieutenant Colonel Gaurav Solanki (37), who was on a UN Peacekeeping Mission to Congo in central Africa, had gone missing from Lake Kivu on September 8. His body was fished out on September 12 from the lake, located on the border between Congo and Rwanda, following four days of extensive search operations undertaken with speedboats and helicopters.
On Monday, Solanki’s family conducted his last rites in Delhi after his body arrived on a flight from Congo late on the evening of September 15.
An Army official said Solanki had accompanied a team of officials to the lake for kayaking. Solanki did not return from the trip along with other officials.
Solanki had been sent on the UN mission in September 2018 and his one-year tenure was about to get over soon. As per sources, he had been elevated to the rank of a Colonel in November 2018, while he was still on the UN mission, even though he was to formally take charge in his regiment later this year.
Speaking to IANS, Solanki’s father-in-law Dayanand Hooda said the officials had ventured into the lake in two-seater kayaks.
“Another kayak carrying two other officials capsized in a deep part of the lake. Gaurav jumped into the waters and fished out the first officer. The second officer had almost drowned but Gaurav went to save him too. Though Gaurav brought the second officer to safety as well, he himself went missing in the waters. We got information about his missing incident only a day later on September 9,” Hooda told IANS.
A preliminary autopsy was conducted upon Solanki in Congo after the discovery of his body. Officials of the UN conducted another autopsy later in a specialised medical facility in Uganda. The autopsy reports have revealed drowning as the cause of death.
Solanki’s body was taken by the Army to the Base Hospital in New Delhi after it arrived here on Sunday evening. It was handed over to his family members on Monday.
Solanki belonged to the 12 Para (Special Forces) of the Indian Army. He was commissioned into service in December 2003 after passing out from the National Defence Academy in Khadakvasla, Pune. He is survived by his wife, a daughter (8) and a son (4).
(Ayaskant Das can be contacted at [email protected])