An on-leave National Disaster Response Force jawan travelling on the Coromandel Express was perhaps the first person to alert emergency services about the train's accident in Odisha's Balasore before he joined initial rescue efforts, officials said.
The Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express entered the wrong track and hit a stationary goods train on Friday. Its coaches got scattered all around including on an adjoining track and another passenger train -- Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express -- coming at a high speed rammed into them and derailed.
The worst rail accident in India in nearly three decades has left at least 288 people dead and over 1,100 injured.
National Disaster Response Force jawan Venkatesh N K was on leave and travelling from Howrah in West Bengal to Tamil Nadu. He had a narrow escape as his coach B-7, though derailed did not collide with coaches ahead of it, the officials said.
He was in a third AC coach and his seat number was 58.
The 39-year-old constable, posted with the NDRF's 2nd battalion in Kolkata, first called his senior inspector in the battalion to inform him about the accident. He then sent some pictures and the "live location" of the site on WhatsApp to the NDRF control room, and this was used by the first rescue teams to reach the spot, they said.
"I felt a massive jolt...and then I saw some passengers in my coach falling down. I brought the first passenger out and seated him in a shop near the railway track...I then rushed to help others," Venkatesh told PTI from onboard a relief train that was taking him to Chennai.
He said locals, including a medical shop owner, were the "real saviours" as they helped the victims with whatever was available to them.
The crash involving the two passenger trains, which were carrying around 2,300 passengers, occurred near the Bahanaga Bazar station in Balasore, about 170 km north of Bhubaneswar.
"The jawan Venkatesh was travelling in the Coromandel Express as he was going on leave to his home in Tamil Nadu. He rang up his seniors in Kolkata as soon as the accident took place. That phone call was probably the first that alerted the NDRF which subsequently informed the local administration too," an official said.
The jawan, who joined the NDRF in 2021 from the Border Security Force, said he used his mobile phone light to locate hurt and trapped passengers and took them to safety.
It was pitch dark and locals too used their mobile phones and torches to help passengers till rescue teams arrived.
NDRF DIG Mohsen Shahedi in Delhi said that "an NDRF jawan is always on duty whether donning a uniform or not."
The first NDRF and Odisha state rescue teams took about an hour to reach the site following the accident that took place around 7 pm on Friday, and till this time, the NDRF rescuer did whatever he could do to save lives in the "golden hour", the official said.
The "golden hour" is the period of time immediately after a traumatic injury during which there is the highest likelihood that prompt medical and surgical treatment will prevent death.