SPIRITUALISM – DEATH AT THAPAR STADIUM, SECUNDERABAD:
I am reporting about an event that resulted in the death of Hav. (Havildar) Rao, a non-commissioned officer of Indian Army serving at No. 2 Training Battalion, Army Ordnance Corps Centre, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India at Thapar Stadium during April, 1983 where over 1, 500 people including army personnel, their wives, and children had gathered to celebrate Army Ordnance Corps( AOC ) Raising Day. I am writing about an unfortunate, tragic event that was witnessed by a multitude of spectators who came to Thapar Stadium to witness what they had hoped would be a spectacular Aerial Shell Fireworks display. I would like to briefly describe the history of Army Ordnance Corps( AOC ) and its Centre in the Cantonment Area of Secunderabad. I would also describe about the infantry weapon known as ‘Mortar’, and the Physics of Aerial Shell Fireworks and the Pyrotechnological principles involved in Fireworks. I would give a brief explanation of the medical aspects of this death event which may help us to understand death as a dying process. It is important to understand as to why an innocent spectator got killed at Thapar Stadium. We may bury our dead but we must never, ever bury our mistakes. Spiritualism seeks the establishment of Peace, Harmony, and Tranquility in the lives of human beings. There will be no Peace until we recognize and admit our errors of judgment that initiate our wrongful actions that disrupt Peace, Harmony, and Tranquility.
ARMY ORDNANCE CORPS OF INDIAN ARMY:
The AOC has a chequered history since the year 1775 when the Board of Ordnance was formed under the British Empire in India in the then Bengal Presidency. On April 01, 1884 The Ordnance Commissariat Department or the Ordnance Department in India came into existence. In 1922 the Indian AOC came into being. India won its Independence on August 15, 1947 and in 1950 India became a Republic. The Indian AOC was re-designated as the AOC which could be described as the material manager of the Indian Army. The Corps motto is: “SHASTRA SE SHAKTI” which describes the purpose of AOC as that of shaping the Army’s ‘Punch’. AOC provides and supplies the munitions required for war. Its inventory includes a diverse range of equipment, armaments, ammunition, explosives, clothing, and tentage. One of the major responsibilities of the Corps is the management of ammunition safety; security of ammunition, and repairs and disposal of unserviceable ammunition. The AOC CENTRE at Trimulgherry or Tirumala Giri, Secunderabad Cantonment was established in June 1953.
Thapar Stadium at AOC Centre is also known as Army Ordnance Centre Cricket Ground, Secunderabad/Hyderabad. During 1965-66 the first Ranji Trophy Cricket Match between Hyderabad and Mysore( now Karnataka ) was played here. Later, a second Ranji Trophy Cricket Match was played in 1992-93 between Hyderabad and Kerala. Thapar Stadium has hosted several First-Class Cricket Matches and has been the venue for several other sporting events.
AOC celebrates Corps Day every year and the Corps Raising Day is celebrated once every five years. Hav. Rao of No. 2 Training Battalion during 1983 was the leading member of AOC Music Band that performs at various AOC official functions both at the Centre and at various locations of AOC across the country. He was married, and his family lived with him at the Centre. His musical talent and artistic performances were liked and appreciated and he was also liked for his pleasant bearing, and amiable nature. I would like to add that he was in perfect health when this totally unexpected event prematurely ended his life.
THE SCIENCE OF PYROTECHNICS :
Fireworks are devices that use explosive, flammable/combustible chemical materials to create spectacular displays of light, noise, and smoke. Pyrotechnics is the art and technology of making and using fireworks. We need to understand the Science behind the spectacle of an entertaining fireworks show.The art of fireworks display dates back to ancient China. In India, traditional festivals like ‘Deepavali’ or ‘Diwali’ include the use of decorative fireworks such as rockets, fountains, sparklers and Roman candles. The celebrations of Victory and Peace like the Fourth of July celebration in the United States, New Year Day celebrations and the firework shows at sporting events are inventions of this century and they speak of the immense popularity of entertaining people with fireworks show. Fireworks makers fill the night sky with myriad effects in displays that are popular all over the world. Aerial fireworks developed out of military rockets and explosive missiles.
Until late 18th century, fireworks lacked the essential characteristic of color. For producing color, we need specific emitters of colored light. Chlorate an invention of the late 18th century and an industrial product of the early 19th century gave the ability to add colors to the fireworks. With the addition of various metallic salts to Potassium Chlorate brilliant colors could be produced. Chemical compounds such as Potassium Chlorate, Potassium Nitrate, and Potassium Perchlorate contain the Oxygen necessary for combustion of the pyrotechnic mixture. The nitrate, carbonate, or sulfate salts of Strontium produce red color; Copper salts produce blue color; Barium salts produce bright green color; and Sodium salts produce yellow flash. Magnesium and Aluminum powder add extra brilliant sparks and flash. The colors, fiery flashes, and star-burst effects of Aerial Fireworks come from ‘stars’, small pellets of firework composition which contain all the necessary ingredients for generating colored light or other special effects like creating images and letters in the air.
MILITARY SCIENCE – MORTARS :
Mortars could be simply called as a small cannon. Mortars are gun like weapons that were first developed for the close support of infantry and therefore classed as infantry weapons. Mortar is a short-range weapon with smooth bore, short barrel, low muzzle velocity, and it fires heavy shells or projectiles with high-arched trajectory. Shell is a payload-carrying projectile which contains an explosive or other filling. Mortars have a role as an adjunct to artillery. It consists principally of a steel tube and supporting bipods and a base plate. During the trench warfare of World War I greatly improved mortars came into use. Mortars as infantry weapons were employed extensively by all countries in a variety of calibres during open warfare of World War II. Small, portable mortars became standard 20th- century infantry weapons, especially for trench or mountain warfare. In mountain and jungle country, the high-angle, or high-arched trajectory fire enables infantry to reach targets inaccessible to other supporting weapons. Mortars because of their light weight and inconspicuousness could be brought into action quickly in difficult terrain to engage military targets that cannot be hit by direct, and observed fire. Modern mortars provide more mobile and less vulnerable weapons than field artillery or howitzers. Mortars are inexpensive to manufacture, simple to operate, and robust and easy to maintain. Medium mortars with a calibre of 70-90 millimetres( about 3-4 inches ), a range up to 4, 000 metres, and a bomb weight of up to 5 Kg are favored. The fin-stabilized projectiles fired from mortars have arrow-like stability. These projectiles are designed to encounter less air resistance and thus retain more of their velocity in flight.
PHYSICS OF AERIAL SHELL FIREWORKS :
The Science of Pyrotechnics involves many Physics applications that must be considered to produce dazzling displays. Aerial Shells contain the chemicals that when ignited produce the brilliant flash of colored light. These Shells are loaded into mortars and are fired into the sky. The size of the Shell is important and six-inch Shells are used at small shows. Shells usually travel about 100 feet vertically for every inch they are in diameter depending on the angle they are fired from. There is a relationship between the initial velocities and the distances traveled by the Shells. Six inch Shell has the initial velocity of 203.5 feet/second. Fireworks are launched from rows of steel tubes(mortars) secured in troughs of sand. The tubes or mortars are three times as long as the Firework Shells but have the same diameter. The Shell fits smugly into its ‘Launch’ tube to allow the pressure created by the ‘Lift Charge’ to launch it into air. There is a ‘Bursting Charge’, a firecracker charge at the center of the Shell. ‘Fuse’ provides a time delay to allow the Shell to explode at the right altitude. When the ‘Lift Charge’ fires to launch the Shell, it ignites the Shells’ ‘Fuse’. The Shell’s Fuse burns while the Shell rises to its correct altitude, and then it lights the ‘Bursting Charge’ making the Shell to explode. Understanding of these basic principles of Physics will help to formulate a policy of Hazard Management for Aerial Shell Fireworks displays.
HAZARD MANAGEMENT FOR FIREWORKS DISPLAYS:
It involves, 1. Recognition of hazards, 2. Evaluation of risks, and 3. Control of risks.
I. Hazards associated with Lift or Propelling Charge:-
1. Premature Ignition or Ignition Problem.
2. Delayed Ignition or “Hangfire.”
3. Ignition Failure or “Misfire.”
II. Functioning Problems:-
1. Explosion within the Mortar tube; a. Mild explosion, b. Powerful explosion or Shell detonation.
2. Explosion just above the Mortar tube.
3. Delayed Explosion.
4. Failure to Explode – Shell or Shell components fall to ground; ignited or unignited; Shell, or burning debris reaches ground.
These hazards have to be recognized for proper planning of Fireworks Displays. If there is no protective barrier like a lake or waterfront, the size and the make of the Aerial Shell used for the display would be of critical importance. For Fireworks Display at Thapar Stadium, the Shell size must not exceed six inches, and Shells with metal casing would pose serious risks to the spectators if the unexploded Shell reaches ground.
AOC RAISING DAY CELEBRATION DURING 1983 AT THAPAR STADIUM :
AOC Raising Day Celebration at AOC Centre, Secunderabad takes place over several days and it includes a variety of events such as a Ceremonial Parade, ‘Sainik Sammelan’( a ceremonial gathering of all Unit personnel in Uniform to hear and discuss about Regimental issues and concerns about general welfare ), ‘Bara Khana’( a feast in which all ranks participate in Uniform ) and a Live Entertainment Show. For the Celebration during 1983, the Ordnance Directorate at New Delhi had decided the addition of an Aerial Shell Fireworks Display at Thapar Stadium where all ranks with their families could be entertained. However, AOC Centre Secunderabad had no ammunition, or mortar tubes, or personnel trained in Pyrotechnics. A trained team headed by a Junior Commissioned Officer, along with the necessary equipment was dispatched to Secunderabad on Temporary Duty to organize the Fireworks Display at Thapar Stadium. The Pyrotechnic Team that had arrived in Secunderabad made no attempt to discuss the issue of Hazard Management with the Regimental Medical Officer. Apparently, a decision was made by the Ordnance Directorate not to directly involve AOC Centre Secunderabad in the conduct of the Aerial Shell Fireworks Display. There was no malicious intent. The Show was intended to amuse people and organizing a rehearsal of the event would spoil the sense of fun in watching the Show. The Team had arrived with ammunition and equipment that was tested at a different location and did not conduct further testing at Secunderabad prior to the actual Show.
After spectators got seated at Thapar Stadium, the lights were turned off, and the night sky was clear and dark for an ideal display of Aerial Fireworks. The mortar tubes were positioned on AOC Farm located just outside the boundary of Thapar Stadium. The very first Mortar Bomb Shell that was fired got launched into the air, had reached its right altitude, and had failed to explode. The Shell had experienced a Functioning Problem and the unexploded Shell rapidly descended vertically, towards the ground with its tip pointing downwards, where people were seated. The crowd of spectators were absolutely stunned and were speechless when this unexpected event hit them like a bolt from the sky. The Shell found its victim and Havildar Rao was that unsuspecting victim. I was among the spectators in a section designated for the Officers of the AOC Centre. I simply dashed towards the bleachers, the site of mishap, and found Hav. Rao within an instant after he was hit. He had recognized me as he was fully conscious. I found the Mortar Bomb standing right on top of his head with its tail fin pointing upwards. He had no words to speak, and he was not in pain. I could clearly see the sense of mortal fear expressed on his face. This sense of fear had an overwhelming force of its own and it would not let the person experience the sensation called Pain. All his vital signs were normal, and he was able to stand on his own. The Shell had penetrated his skull bone and remained very firmly seated in the head. There was no external bleeding from the head injury. I must frankly admit that I was shocked beyond all belief to find the type of Mortar Bomb that got planted into his head. It was eight inches long and had a heavy metal casing. I was not really expecting that the Shell would be that long and heavy and might have metal casing instead of cardboard. However, at that moment, my first concern was that of assuring Hav. Rao and to take him to the Military Hospital for immediate management of his head injury. The unexploded Mortar Bomb posed a great risk to him and all others and it was my urgent priority to safely dislodge this Bomb from his skull before it explodes. Rules of Safety demand that unexploded ammunition such as Bombs should not be directly touched or handled as such handling would cause them to explode. I assisted Hav. Rao to move and found the staff car of Brigadier A M Bhattacharya, Commandant of AOC Centre that was parked inside the Stadium. I helped Hav. Rao to get into the backseat of this staff car as it would be better to transport him in a sitting position without disturbing the Bomb. Within a few minutes, we had reached the Military Hospital on Gough Road, a short distance from the AOC Centre campus. As he stepped out of the car to enter the Hospital Medical Inspection Room, he had to pause for he had a bout of vomiting. It was a danger signal, a symptom of raising intracranial pressure due to head injury. The Duty Medical Officer and his staff lost no time and we had initiated the medical treatment to reduce the raising intracranial pressure. Lieutenant Colonel A K Gupta, the Senior Surgical Specialist of the Hospital had soon arrived on the scene. At that time, Hav. Rao was still fully conscious, breathing on his own, and his blood pressure showed a response by getting elevated as a result of the raising intracranial pressure. Surgeon A K Gupta had immediately taken him to the Operation Theater and his first priority was to safely remove the Bomb which penetrated his skull and then to attempt a surgical decompression by removing the collection of blood inside the skull that was compressing the brain matter. The Surgeon could safely remove the Bomb and could not proceed any further as a fatal complication called brain herniation began to manifest. It was a very rapid, and fast-moving course of medical condition during which the patient loses cardiac and respiratory functions associated with signs of deep coma or loss of consciousness. Apart from the loss of heart and lung functions, there was loss of all brainstem functions at which point the fact of the clinical onset of brain death was made. From the Military Hospital, I had proceeded to the residence of Lieutenant Colonel R S Johar, the Commanding Officer of No. 2 Training Battalion. He and other Officers were anxiously awaiting to learn about the outcome of this tragic event. Later, a Court of Inquiry was instituted as required by Army Regulations to officially inquire about this accident and the death of Hav. Rao. The Court was satisfied that the death was due to an accident and did not blame any individual for causing or contributing to this accident.
THE MEDICAL ASPECTS OF SEVERE HEAD INJURY :
A serious and potentially fatal consequence of head injury is that of brain edema and brain herniation. Brain is enclosed in a non-expandable case, the skull or the cranium. Head trauma causes increased permeability of the endothelial cells, the cells that line the walls of the small blood vessels and capillaries that supply blood to the brain tissue. The blood vessels can also rupture as a direct consequence of the trauma. This leads to loss of blood or fluid from the capillaries and blood vessels which collects and accumulates in the surrounding brain tissue. This vasogenic brain edema or swelling leads to an increased intracranial pressure. The leaked blood collects as a swelling called hematoma which exerts pressure on brain tissue. The cranial or skull cavity is divided by dural septa or partitions into several compartments. A mass lesion like hematoma, or brain edema causes a pressure gradient between the compartments of the cranial cavity. The term brain herniation describes the displacement that occurs when cerebral tissue, cerebrospinal fluid and blood vessels are moved or pressed and pushed outside of their usual positions within the brain compartments. The pressure gradient causes the movement of brain tissue and the tissue gets pushed through openings in the covering of brain called dura mater or through openings in the skull like the foramen magnum. Herniation causes damage by direct compression of brain tissue and of blood vessels that supply brain. Compression of brainstem affects the vital respiratory and circulatory centers that operate the functions of Lungs and Heart. The loss of functions of brainstem causes 1. coma or deep unconsciousness, 2. cardiac and respiratory arrest, absence of heart beat, and spontaneous breathing, and 3. absence of brainstem reflexes like blinking of eyes, pupils not responding or reacting to light( remain dilated and not constricting to light) and the absence of ‘gagging reflex’.
SPIRITUALISM AND DEATH AT THAPAR STADIUM :
I am reporting this unfortunate event in due recognition of the failure of Hazard Management for that fateful Aerial Shell Fireworks Display held during 1983. We had not recognized the risks and we had not evaluated the risks and hence we had no ability to control the risks. To acknowledge the fact that we had learned a lesson, we must erect a suitable Memorial to pay homage to our Fallen Soldier and pay tribute to Hav. Rao of AOC Centre Music Band.
“ARMY COVERED UP HAVILDAR’S DEATH” – NEWS STORY IN DECCAN CHRONICLE :
Jatinder Kaur Tur of Deccan Chronicle published a news item on August 29, 2012 giving some details of this incident involving the death of Havildar Rao and commented about Army’s inability to report its mistake. In a Letter to the Editor, Deccan Chronicle reader, Colonel Prasad had commented on September 01 and claimed that, “All accidents are investigated by Courts of Inquiry and action is taken.” It is indeed true and as I mentioned in this blog post, a Court of Inquiry presided by Lieutenant Colonel R S Johar of No. 2 Training Battalion, AOC Centre, Secunderabad had given its findings and the same were approved without blaming any person or entity for contributing to this accidental death.
Dr. R. Rudra Narasimham, B.Sc., M.B.B.S.,
Ex- No. MR- 03277K. Rank. Major . AMC/DPC
Senior Regimental Medical Officer ( 1978-84 ),
AOC CENTRE, TRIMULGHERRY, SECUNDERABAD, Andhra Pradesh, India.
1. Place of Birth: Mylapore, Madras City, Chenna Patnam, Chennai, Madras State, Tamil Nadu, India. Born Hindu(Brahmin, Niyogi, Smartha), Telugu-Speaking.
2. Date and Place of Marriage: January 29, 1973, Town Congregational Church, Cuddapah, Kadapa District, Andhra Pradesh, India.
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