Twenty-one persons were killed and 15 injured when an overcrowded mini-bus fell into a 200-ft-deep gorge on Saturday after its driver lost control over the vehicle on Jammu-Srinagar national highway in Ramban district, officials said.
Among the dead were four women and the driver. Ten critically injured passengers were airlifted from the accident site to army hospital at Udhampur and two others to Jammu, they said.
The vehicle was on its way to Ramban town from Banihal when the accident occurred around 9.55 am. The driver lost control over the “overcrowded” vehicle which rolled down the deep gorge at Kela Morh near Maroof, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Doda-Kishtwar-Ramban range, Rafiq-ul-Hassan, said.
The officials said 15 persons died on-the-spot, while six others succumbed to injuries at different hospitals including one at Army hospital where he was admitted after being airlifted from the accident site.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik and leaders of various political parties expressed grief over the loss of lives in the accident. Malik announced an exgratia relief of Rs five lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 each to the injured, the officials said.
Local volunteers launched a rescue operation soon after the accident and were shortly joined by the quick reaction teams of police and Army, the officials said.
Deputy Commissioner, Ramban, Showkat Aijaz and Senior Superintendent of Police Anita Sharma reached the site to supervise the rescue operation and subsequently requisitioned choppers to airlift the critically injured persons.
A total of six sorties were made by army’s Chetah and Chetak helicopters, a private airliner and a state helicopter.
“The critically injured persons were airlifted to Army hospital at Udhampur and Government Medical College hospital Jammu for specialized treatment,” the DIG said and praised the rescuers for reaching the accident victims “in the shortest possible time”, thus saving many lives.
Leaders of National Conference, Peoples Demoractic Party and National Panthers Party expressed shock over the accident and called for adequate compensation to the families of the victims.
In their condolence messages, NC President Farooq Abdullah and vice president Omar Abdullah prayed for peace to departed souls and strength to the members of their families.
PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has sought immediate release of ex gratia relief and other assistance. She urged the Jammu divisional administration to provided all necessary medical facilities to the injured.
Expressing sympathy with the affected families, chief patron of NPP Bhim Singh said, “Officials of the department concerned should be made accountable for careless execution by the contractors.”