Bus Plunges Into Deep Gorge, Killing Passengers

A packed bus filled with schoolchildren and commuters plunged into a gorge in the Himalayas during the Monday morning commute, with more than a dozen people feared dead.

Bodies and injured victims were pulled from the wreckage after the accident at 8:30 a.m. near the town of Kullu, in the northern Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh in India, according to The Times of India. The vehicle veered out of control near a hairpin bend, tumbling down a steep hillside.

Photographs from witnesses at the scene show the crumpled bus had flipped over repeatedly during its descent, eventually landing upside down near the village of Jangla.

Bus crash in India
A 2021 report revealed road accidents in India were the most deadly they had been for several years, with 37 people killed in every 100 crashes in 2020. Pictured: The crumpled remains of a bus that crashed on the Delhi-Agra expressway, near Agra on July 8, 2019. Getty Images

It remains unclear how many passengers the private bus was carrying on its route from Shainsher to Sainj, with reports varying from around 30 to 40 people. Hindi news channel NDTV reported that more than 40 people were inside the bus when it crashed, citing officials, while Robert Abraham from Punjabi news organization ABP Sanjha tweeted that more than 45 passengers were on board.

He shared pictures of the scene and wrote: "Over a dozen including school children killed this morning after a private #bus falls into deep gorge in #sainjvalley of #Kullu. Bus was carrying around 45 passengers. Rescue teams reached the spot. Several passenger are feared injured. At least 40 students were in bus."

The age of the schoolchildren is not yet known. Most news reports put the number of confirmed dead at 12, but The Times of India puts the grim tally at 11 victims so far—while adding that the death toll is expected to climb further as the remaining passengers are recovered from the wreckage. Kullu's senior superintendent of police, Gurdev Sharma, told the newspaper he was unable to confirm the number of passengers, casualties, or death toll while the rescue operation is still underway.

Witnesses at the scene scrambled to help before police and paramedics arrived. State officials are also at the site to oversee the rescue operation.

India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, tweeted his condolences after learning of the tragedy, and vowed to approve payments to the bereaved families. He wrote: "The bus accident in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh is heart-rending. In this tragic hour my thoughts are with the bereaved families. I hope those injured recover at the earliest. The local administration is providing all possible assistance to those affected... The Prime Minister has approved an ex-gratia [payment] of Rs. 2 lakh [about $2,532] each from PMNRF [the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund] for the next of kin of those who have lost their lives due to the tragic bus accident in Himachal Pradesh. The injured would be given Rs. 50,000 [about $633] each."

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jairam Thakur tweeted: "The entire administration is present at the spot and the injured are being taken to the hospital. I pray to God to give peace to the departed souls and strength to bereaved families." He has ordered an official inquiry into the cause of the accident, according to NDTV, and has promised further payments to grieving relatives and the injured.

Newsweek has asked Kullu police for further information.

The tragedy follows a similar tragedy that rocked the country back in 2018. More than 40 people were killed when their bus plunged into a gorge in the mountainous Uttarakhand state in northern India. The vehicle broke into two pieces on impact when it landed in a small river below.

Just months earlier, a driver and 13 children were killed when a train plowed into their bus in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Discussing India's high traffic fatalities that year, Harman Singh, a member of Arrive Safe, a travel safety advocacy group, told Al Jazeera: "It's a combination of factors. Roads are not in good condition, drivers are not trained, vehicles are not road worthy."

At the end of 2021, a hard-hitting report in India revealed that road accidents were the most deadly they had been for several years, with the number of fatalities steadily rising proportionately since 2017. For every 100 crashes in 2020, 37 people died, the report published by the National Crime Records Bureau showed. The numbers stood at 35 deaths per 100 crashes in 2019, 34 in 2018 and 32 in 2017.