Tragedy struck the J&K Bank Mughal Rally when a Gypsy with its two occupants plunged down the mountain side. The driver, Jatinder Shukla, died on the spot while the navigator Ashish Mahajan battles for his life in a coma at a hospital in Srinagar. The incident happened just short of Sinthan Pass (3748 m) in the Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir. The ‘Enduro’ category that the two were taking part in is far removed from the hard core 'Xtreme' version.
Enduro is considered safer as the goal is to maintain a low average speed. Unlike the Xtreme version that demands high speeds and specialised vehicles, the Enduro category is open to amateur drivers. However, the day's ask from Jammu to Srinagar via Sinthan was a 641 km-long haul which stretched to close to 20 hours on the road. That proved to be a crucial factor.
“It seems the long drive took its toll. Fatigue appears to be the main factor for this incident,” said Hari Singh, the national motorsports federation's safety delegate for the event."We'll look to see if rules have to be framed to prevent such an occurrence in the future."
Vicky Chandhok, the federation's president said, “We have to examine all the factors that caused this driver error. That could be about reducing driving hours to reduce fatigue. At the same time the risk factor is what makes this event attractive and we would not like to change the character of the rally.”
Manjeev Bhalla of the Himalayan Motorsports Association, the organisers of the event, clarified that while it was a long day, adequate time for recovery was also very much part of the plan.
“Of the 641 kms, about 280 did not demand competitive driving. We will certainly consider all aspects for the future. In hindsight, things could have been different.”
No competitive driving at dusk would be a good start.