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India river sweeps away fiance of Cook’s daughter

SHARE India river sweeps away fiance of Cook’s daughter

The fiance of the daughter of Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, was swept away by a rushing river in a remote part of India on Monday.

The army of India was still searching for him Wednesday. "But they tell us at this point it is unlikely he survived. But we are still praying. Our family is devastated," Cook told the Deseret News.Cook said Peter Zachariadas of Chevy Chase, Md., was in India for some postgraduate studies of Indian literature, culture and philosophy. He said he aimed to join the faculty of St. John's College in New Mexico, where he met Cook's daughter, Barbara, when they were both students there.

Cook said Zachariadas and a colleague were hiking together toward the headwaters of the Ganges River in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains when Zachariadas fell into its rushing waters.

He was swept several hundred yards downstream before his companion lost sight of him.

Cook said it took the companion several hours to hike to the nearest village in the remote area to report the accident and notify Zachariadas' parents in Maryland.

They and Cook then began pleading with the India government and U.S. diplomats in India to mount a search for Zachariadas in case he was able to work his way out of the river alive. Cook said he was on the phone making such pleas all night Monday, and the search finally began.

"They told me that seven units of the Indian Army and several helicopters are involved in the search," Cook said.

He added that the U.S. ambassador to India, Richard Celeste, a former governor of Ohio, talked to him at length, and had verified that the search was ongoing. He said he also talked to high officials in the Indian army for updates on the search.

"My family and the Zachariadas family will be eternally grateful for their help. I know there is a lot of expense involved. I am told this is one of the most rugged and isolated places on earth."

Cook added, "Peter is one of the smartest, most decent guys I know," and said he has hopes he managed to get out of the river and survive at the high altitude (the accident occurred at about 8,000 feet elevation) until help arrives.

Barbara Cook is still a student at St. John's. She had traveled with Zachariadas to India last year for several weeks but is currently at school in New Mexico.

Despite the tragedy, Merrill Cook was continuing with a near full schedule of congressional work - and did not miss any floor votes on Tuesday.

The Ganges is sacred to Hindus, who make pilgrimages to it to wash away their sins. The river is 1,560 miles long, flowing from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal.