At least 17 people were killed Monday when their overloaded mini-bus rolled down a 400-feet deep gorge in Himachal Pradesh's Sirmaur district, officials said.
Nearly 20 others were injured in the accident that took place at Milla near Shillai in Paonta Sahib subdivision, about 110 km from Shimla, as the bus was on its way from Milla village to Paonta Sahib.
Superintendent of Police Sumedha Dwivedi told IANS over phone that all the bodies have been recovered, most of them badly mutilated, from the wreckage of the bus.
The cause of the accident is yet to be ascertained but the survivors said one of the front wheels of the bus came out.
Police said the driver and conductor of the bus fled after the accident.
Transport Minister G.S Bali ordered a committee headed by the sub-divisional magistrate of Paonta Sahib to look into the reasons of the accident, besides constituting a technical committee for the same purpose. The committees will submit their reports within 15 days.
Bali said Rs.2.5 lakh each would be given to the next of kin of the deceased.
Official sources said the bad condition of the road was also responsible for the accident. They said the death toll could rise as some of the passengers got grievous injuries.
Witnesses said the administration had a tough time in extricating the victims from the wreckage and local residents had started the rescue operations well before the authorities could reach the spot.
Governor Urmila Singh and Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh have expressed grief over the deaths in the accident.
Sirmaur is one of remotest places in the state. Buses plying there have poor frequency, and the scarcity of means of transport often leads to overcrowding of vehicles.
Police records say over 800 people die every year in Himachal Pradesh in road accidents.
Police have identified 556 accident-prone spots, including 210 on national highways.