Dharamshala: In a tragic incident. at least 23 children and two teachers were killed when a school bus plunged 328 feet into a gorge in Himachal Pradesh’s Malkwal, on the Punjab border, on Monday afternoon. Kangra district officials fear the death toll may rise as 11 other children have been injured in the worst school bus accident in the region in recent years. The condition of at least three of the injured children, hospitalised at Pathankot in Punjab, are said to be serious. All the kids are between 5 and 14 years.
The bus belonging to the Wazir Ram Singh Pathania private school had left the campus at around 3 pm. It had barely covered 6 km when the driver is believed to have lost control of the bus, resulting in the fatal plunge. A local woman who had taken a lift on the bus a few minutes earlier was among the dead.
Officials said it would be difficult to ascertain the cause of the accident until they speak to the survivors and get more details. They have, however, registered a case against the driver Madan Lal, an ex-army man, who, too, was killed in the accident. He has been booked for rash driving and causing death by negligence under the Indian Penal Code.
Police officials will also be speaking to locals who were the first responders. Many of them had rushed down to the wreckage the moment they heard the loud noise of the bus hitting the rocks. Of the 23 children killed, 13 were boys and 10 were girls. “I heard a loud bang and rushed out only to see the bus falling down. It reached bottom of the hill very quickly,” said an eyewitness Sahil Kumar.
Kangra SP Santosh Patial told media that the impact of the accident was such that much of the vehicle was crushed. “We had to cut open the body of the bus to pull out the victims and survivors,” he said. “We have been able to account for 38 people in the bus. As a precaution, we are making sure no one fell out at the time of the accident.”
Principal of the school, Sunita Kumari, said the bus was carrying students of all standards – from nursery to class 10. “The bus had been inspected by all the authorities and had met all norms,” she said.
Expressing grief over the accident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed solidarity with the parents of the dead students.