A BDS (Bachelor of Dental Science) student and a nursing student were among three people killed, while more than 40 others were injured, as a high-end luxury bus going from Chandigarh to Pathankot crashed into a roadside tree at Panam village near Garhshankar around 5pm on Saturday, 45 kilometres from here.
In this second major bus accident on the Chandigarh highway near Hoshiarpur since January, Mercedes Benz bus driver Sajjan Singh (50) of Dinanagar was killed along with Pathankot residents Varun Verma and Nisha Saini, the former a third-year BDS student in Chandigarh and the latter enrolled in a nursing course at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in the same city. Varun was grandson of Pathankot's noted dental surgeon, Dr Baldev Verma.
It took a JCB (earth digger) machine, gas cutters, cranes, and hours of human effort to extricate the bodies and the injured from the wreckage. Many people from Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir were on board. They come from Jammu, Dalhousie, Udhampur, Kathua, Dinanagar, and Chamba. Locals were first to respond to the emergency and call the police. From the nearby Garhshankar civil hospital, eight injured passengers were referred to different hospitals in Chandigarh, Jalandhar and Ludhiana. One of them, Kirti of Pathankot, who was shifted to Fortis hospital in SAS Nagar with broken legs, has said that the crash happened during her sleep. "I woke up when I heard the bang," she said.
"Most of the passengers we talked to have said that they were asleep at the time the bus hit the tree, so they couldn't say how it had happened," said Garhshankar deputy superintendent of police (DSP) Manjit Singh, adding: "We dismissed the theory of tyre burst when we found the wheels intact. Now we are looking into the angles of technical snag or speeding."
Injured Ramandeep has alleged that the bus was overloaded and many passengers, including him, had been seated on stools. Eyewitnesses said that at least one life could have been saved had the ambulance reached in time. "The woman (Nisha Saini) died writhing in pain," said Ajaib Singh, a local, who added that the ambulance had taken half an hour to reach the spot, while the doctors' team had arrived even later.
Garhshankar municipal committee president Rajinder Singh Shooka and some other local leaders helped the police in the rescue operation and took food to the injured at the civil hospital.
The bodies are kept in the Garhshankar civil hospital mortuary and the victims' relatives have been informed.
On January 11, three people were killed and at least 15 injured in a head-on collision between a tourist bus and a truck near Mahilpur, 20 km from Garhshankar on the same Hoshiarpur-Chandigarh road.
Overloading: A survivor has said that the bus was overloaded and many passengers, including him, were seated on stools
Tyre burst: Ruled out, since police found the tyres to be okay; the sound that the passengers heard was probably of the bus hitting the tree
Technical snag: Since the driver lost control of the bus suddenly, it's a possibility
Speeding: Judging from fact that the impact was strong
Eyewitnesses said at least one life could have been saved had the ambulance reached in time. It took 30 minutes to get to the spot, while the doctors arrived even later