At least eight persons were killed and 21 others injured when a private tourist bus from Punjab plunged into the swollen Parbati river in Himachal Pradesh's Kullu district on Thursday.
Twenty-six passengers were still missing and their chances of survival were bleak as the bus was still untraceable.
The bus - which had 55 passengers, mostly from Punjab's Mansa, Barnala and Bathinda areas - was on its way to the Sikh shrine of Manikaran, around 40 km from Kullu.
"The accident occurred around 4.15 pm at Sarsari village on the Bhuntar-Manikaran road," Kullu deputy commissioner Rakesh Kanwar said. The DC said eight bodies were fished out and a rescue operation was on. It is believed that the driver lost control over the vehicle as a result it skidded off the road and fell into the river.
"The bus is still untraceable. Most of the bodies might be still stuck in the bus or washed away," said the DC. The injured have been admitted to the regional hospital in Kullu from where four were referred to the Post Graduate Institute if Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh.
Medical superintendent of the Kullu hospital Sarita Sharma said the condition of the injured was critical and all of them were in an unconscious state.
Sources said the bus was hired by residents of Chango village in Barnala and had left Mansa on Thursday morning. Majority of passengers were swept away in the gushing waters. Only those passengers could be rescued who rolled out of windows as the bus skidded off the road.
The DC said rescue operation will continue to locate the victims. Police, home guard and other rescue personnel have been deployed along the 70-km river stretch between Bhuntar and Mandi to locate the bodies.
Governor Kalyan Singh and chief minister Virbhadra Singh have expressed grief over the tragedy. The chief minister directed the district administration to intensify search operations, besides providing all possible assistance to the injured.
Kullu bus tragedy triggers panic in Mansa, Barnala, Bathinda villages
The bus accident in Himachal Pradesh's Kullu district on Thursday spread panic in villages in Mansa, Barnala and Bathinda districts as most passengers hailed from these districts.
The private bus with nearly 55 passengers was on its way to the Sikh shrine of Manikaran when it skidded off the road and fell into Parbati river.
As per reports, 11 passengers are from Jaga Rama Tirath village near Bathinda. There was, however, no confirmation regarding any casualty. Talwandi Sabo sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Vanit Kumar said the picture would be clear by Friday only.
AAP leader Baljinder Kaur, who is a resident of Jaga Ram Tirath village, claimed around 11 villagers were on the bus. There were also reports of some passengers from Lelewala village on the bus. Village sarpanch Major Singh said the exact number of passengers from the village couldn't be verified.
Sources said around 19 bus passengers are from different villages in Mansa. As the reports of the mishap poured in, district administration officials reached Joga village from where around 12 persons were aboard the ill-fated vehicle.
"As per our information, there are 12 people from Joga, six from Makha and one from Aklia on the bus. The remaining passengers are from Bathinda. We are making a list of people who were on way to Manikaran," said Mansa SDM Rakesh Kumar.
A tense atmosphere prevailed in Joga village with many families enquiring about the well-being of their relatives. "My son Mandeep Singh, who was studying in Barnala, is also on that bus. I'm not sure where he is right now," said village resident Kamaljeet Kaur. Officials have confirmed that 21 persons have been admitted to a Kullu hospital.
Malkit Singh, owner of the transport company Guru Kirpa Roadways to which the bus belonged, said:"The driver, Surjit Singh, is among those injured. He is a resident of Amla Singh Wala village in Barnala. I have talked to medical authorities in Kullu. They have told me that the driver is in unconscious state. Barnala SDM Amarvir Singh Sidhu said: "The information we have right now is sketchy as details are still pouring in."