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10 Vaishno Devi pilgrims dead, 57 injured in Jammu bus accident

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JHAJJAR KOTLI/JAMMU, May 30 (PTI): Ten Vaishno Devi pilgrims, most of them from Bihar, were killed and 57 injured on Tuesday as the bus they were travelling in skidded off the road and rammed into the railing of a bridge before falling off it, officials said.

The death toll may go up as Government Medical College Hospital principal Shashi Soodan said two of the injured admitted there are critical.

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The officials said the bus, which was on its way to Katra from Amritsar, met with the accident in Jhajjar Kotli area on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway between 6.30 and 7 am. Katra is a base camp for the pilgrims visiting the famous shrine atop the Trikuta hills.

They said most of the travellers were members of an extended family from Bihar’s Lakhisarai and were on pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi temple for a ritual of a child.

“The accident took place at Jhajjar Kotli Bridge. Ten people have died. Rescue operation is almost complete,” Jammu Senior Superintendent of Police Chandan Kohli told PTI. “We are investigating the reasons behind the accident.”

Local residents, CRPF and police personnel rushed to the spot and launched the rescue operation.

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“The troops of 137 CRPF battalion carried out the rescue operation to evacuate injured driver and passengers from the bus, which turned turtle and fell down from Jhajjar Kotli bridge on highway,” the force said in a tweet.

“Two persons were brought dead while others died on the spot,” said GMC hospital principal Soodan.

Jammu and Kashmir DGP Dilbagh Singh said prima facie, the cause of accident appeared to be human error or over speeding.

“It is possible that the driver might have dozed off on the wheel. It’s a high flyover kind of road from where the bus fell off, so the reason could also be over speeding. It is part of our investigation,” he told reporters.

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A CRPF officer said 10 bodies have been recovered.

Jammu and Kashmir Lt Governor Manoj Sinha approved an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh each for the next of kin of those who lost their lives and Rs 50,000 each for those seriously injured. Condoling the deaths, he said in a tweet, “Extremely pained by the loss of lives in a tragic bus accident in Jhajjar Kotli, Jammu. My heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families & prayers for speedy recovery of the injured. Directed district administration to provide all possible assistance & treatment to the injured.”

Ravinder Panday, one of the travellers, said they felt that something hit the bus. “It lost balance and rolled down,” he said.

The accident site looked horrific with bodies trapped under the mangled remains of the bus.

Describing the accident, witnesses said the bus was in the left lane, but it crossed over to the right side after the driver lost control, hit the railing of the bridge and fell down into a gorge.

The front wheels came off and got stuck in the parapet of the bridge.

“We were going to pay obeisance at the Mata Vaishno Devi temple and perform ‘mundan’ (rituals related to shaving a baby’s hair for the first time). We were several families together,” said Ramesh Kumar, who escaped unhurt.

For the journey to Katra, the vehicle, carrying a registration number of Uttar Pradesh (UP 81 CT 3537), should have taken a left turn nearly two km before the spot of accident, but passengers said the driver seemed to have lost the direction and was probably going to the Udhampur-Srinagar side of the highway.

Chief Secretary Arun K Mehta, DGP Singh, ADGP (Jammu Zone) Mukesh Singh and other senior officials visited the Jammu GMC Hospital to enquire about the condition of the injured.

Speaking to reporters, Mehta said all possible help and the best of treatment are being provided to the injured.

This is the third big accident in Jammu and Kashmir this month. On May 24, seven persons were killed and two others critically injured after a vehicle ferrying workers of a power project rolled down a hill in Kishtwar district.

On May 21, a 27-year-old woman was killed and 24 people were injured when a Rajasthan-bound bus carrying Vaishno Devi pilgrims overturned in Jammu and Kashmir’s Reasi district.

Condoling the loss of lives, BJP J&K president Ravinder Raina said, “We stand by their families in times of grief.”

The Apni Party also expressed grief over the accident and said “may Almighty give the grieving families, who lost their loved ones in this horrible accident, enough patience to cope with the pain.”

Chairman of Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) Ghulam Nabi Azad asked party leaders and workers to visit the spot and provide all assistance to the injured and victims.

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