"Please cut my hands but pull me out of the debris," implored Pragya Jadeja in a frail voice when she spotted the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) jawan looking out for survivors after the collapse of a residential building in suburban Ghatkopar on Wednesday.
"Mere dono haath kaat do bhaiya, mujhe jaldi bahar nikaalo... Nahi to main mar jaungi (cut my both the hands but please pull me out quickly otherwise I am going to die)," the 50-year-old said in a voice filled with pain and helplessness.
Jadeja was one of the 11 survivors pulled out from under the rubble of the four-storey Siddhi Sai Cooperative Housing Society which collapsed last morning, killing 17 people.
Narrating his experience, constable Santosh Jadhav said, "We could hardly peep in to find that Jadeja's both the hands were partially crushed between two big fallen walls. But we comforted her, cut the huge RCC structure, and finally pulled her out safe."
Similarly, a 20-year-old woman was pulled out alive from under the mound by the rescuers who reached her after hearing her cries for help.
"The woman was trapped under the huge pile of the rubble and was wailing due to pains. We removed big pillars while praying that they don't fall on her and then pulled her out," another jawan said, adding that he spotted a gentleman lying in a pool of blood motionless in the rubble.
A 47-member team of NDRF was pressed into the search and rescue operation immediately after the incident.
The case of Rajesh Doshi, a resident of the ill-fated building, underlines how survival instinct comes into play in such tragedies.
Doshi, whose legs got crushed under the debris, called up his son on his mobile phone around 6 pm, hours after the collapse, trying to explain his position.
"Doshi called his son at 6 pm, but it took nearly eight hours to locate and extricate him safely. He was finally pulled out of the rubble around 2.45 am," said a BMC official engaged in the rescue operation.
Deputy Commandant Mahesh Nalawade, who led the NDRF (Mumbai) team, said sophisticated equipment in their arsenal came handy for the jawans in saving lives.
"Our team used sensors that could catch the heart beat of people trapped under debris. We also used trained sniffer dogs. We lowered cameras from the passages/holes to locate who is trapped under the rubble and acted accordingly. We used cutters sparingly," he said, adding that absence of rain came as a boon for the jawans.
The main impediment in such search and rescue operations is to locate people and then pull them out safely, he added.