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Ghatkopar hoarding collapse: The cabbie who honked his way to staying alive

Updated on: 18 May,2024 11:03 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Shirish Vaktania |

Fifty-eight-year-old tells mid-day how it took nephew and five to 10 people over 1.5 hours to save a life

Ghatkopar hoarding collapse: The cabbie who honked his way to staying alive

The damaged vehicle, which was bought 13 years ago (left) Rakesh Gujral, who has been a taxi driver for 30 years

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Ghatkopar hoarding collapse: The cabbie who honked his way to staying alive

Honking, in most cases a major annoyance, was a lifesaver for taxi driver Rakesh Gujral, who found himself trapped under the gigantic hoarding that left 16 dead in Ghatkopar on Monday. The 58-year-old resident of Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar in Ghatkopar East, told mid-day, “If my horn hadn’t worked that day, I wouldn’t be standing in front of you today.”
On that fateful evening, Gujral was at the petrol pump to refuel his taxi with CNG. After getting trapped, he immediately called his wife and sister for help, and his nephew was sent to rescue him. Despite searching frantically, the youth couldn’t locate the cabbie and asked him to honk, which helped him trace him.

Gujral, who sustained head injuries, told mid-day, “I have been a taxi driver for the past 30 years. I purchased this taxi 13 years ago on someone else’s permit. I finish work around 4 pm. Afterwards, I refill my vehicle and return home. On Monday evening, I was sitting inside my taxi at the Bharat Petroleum pump on the Eastern Express Highway in Ghatkopar East when out of nowhere it started raining heavily. 

Rakesh Gujral, who has been a taxi driver for 30 years
Rakesh Gujral, who has been a taxi driver for 30 years

Suddenly, the hoarding fell on the petrol pump. Part of it also collapsed on my taxi, trapping me. I was unable to move, and everything went dark. I took out my phone and called my wife Meena for help. Later, I called my sister Seema Sondi, who lives nearby. My sister told me she was sending her son, Nikhil, to the spot, and he would arrive in five to seven minutes.”

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However, many people had gathered at the spot, making it difficult for him to enter the petrol pump area. Eventually, Nikhil, who is in his early thirties, called Gujral, and the latter informed him that he was trapped under the hoarding. Unable to locate him, Nikhil asked his uncle to blow his horn.

“I started honking continuously to indicate my exact location. My nephew reached my spot and, with the help of others, tore down the hoarding banner. He couldn’t remove me on his own. He enlisted the help of five to 10 people present at the scene. They formed a chain from the top to the bottom of the hoarding. Nikhil then entered, removed some of the iron parts and created a way for me. Some bystanders held him while he was upside down so that he could reach my taxi. 

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He then broke the window pane and lifted me out of the debris. I eventually caught hold of some iron rods and climbed up. The others helped pull us out,” Gujral said. In his cab, everything was dark and Gujral could only hear voices calling for help. After the rescue operation, which lasted one and a half hours, Gujral was rushed to Rajawadi Hospital, where he was admitted. After doctors performed a CT scan and found no major injuries, he was released. Gujral has two sons who are abroad. “Driving the taxi is my only source of income, and my vehicle has been damaged beyond repair. If I get insurance, it will be around Rs 1.5 lakh, but a new taxi costs around Rs 4-5 lakh. I was saved and am living my second life. My taxi horn saved me,” said Gujral.

1.5 hours
Duration of rescue operation

May 13
Day incident occurred

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