When the second-in-command at Mumbai Crime Branch’s missing persons bureau himself went missing, minds expectedly went to work on overdrive, seeking explanations. While theories ranged from abduction to accident, nobody thought of looking inside the lift. And so Inspector Suresh Masaji Sonawane had to spend a nightmarish weekend, stuck in the lift of his office building for a harrowing 42 hours.
Inspector Sonawane has been a member of the missing persons bureau for the last five years, and has used his sleuthing skills to trace many a missing victim. Needless to say, there was considerable alarm when it emerged that the man himself had gone missing after stepping out for lunch on Saturday afternoon.
When Sonawane did not make it home on Saturday night, his anxious wife and daughter Apoorva lodged a missing person complaint with the MRA Marg police station. Several search teams were mobilised immediately, and despatched to various hospitals. A team also departed for Solapur, Sonawane’s native town, hoping to find him there.
Unlike his colleagues, Sonawane did not have the luxury of having his family members on speed dial; nor could he holler for help. “Sonawane had a brain hemorrhage in 2008. Since then, his doctor advised him to stop using his mobile phone,” said police sub-inspector Shamsher Tadvi of MRA Marg police station. “His left hand is also paralysed and his voice is feeble since the paralytic attack,” said Tadvi.
So while police teams combed different hospitals and parts of the state, the lift mechanic’s jaw dropped on Monday morning, when Sonawane staggered out of the lift, and made a desperate dash for the fisheries office for a drink of water.
Missing in action
Sonawane works with the missing persons bureau, which has its headquarters in a BMC building on the third floor of the Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Market building, opposite the police headquarters near Crawford Market.
While going for lunch on Saturday, he got into the lift. Just then, someone stopped the lift. The building houses mostly government offices and since it was the second Saturday of the month, they were all closed. Since there were very few people in the building, one of the lifts was shut down, while the other continued to operate. Sonawane was left trapped in the lift as it is not equipped with an emergency alarm,” said Tadvi.
Sonawane’s cries for help failed to reach his colleagues in the missing persons bureau, which was the only office open in the building that day. “Sonawane did not have a mobile phone. His wife also went to the office on Sunday, but no one searched the building. We have summoned the lift maintenance team to ask them why they shut the lift without checking if anybody was in it,” said Tadvi.
“I could not speak to Sonawane, but we asked him to take some rest as he was stuck in the lift from 3 pm on Saturday till 9 am on Monday. He had a terrible ordeal without any food, water or sufficient air to breathe,” said Prakash Jadhav, senior police inspector of the Missing Persons Bureau.
Sonawane, an officer from the 1991 batch of Maharashtra Police, has served as an officer in the GRP and Mumbai Police, and has a sterling record. Seven years ago, he suffered a brain haemorrhage, for which he had to undergo neurosurgery.
The building that made Sonawane disappear is maintained by the BMC. It houses other offices such as the BMC’s birth-death certificate section, the Mumbai District Central Co-operative Bank, the licence department, poverty department, the pollution control section, the deputy chief accountant’s office, and offices for housing loans, and Octroi.
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