Jammu: Ten Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims, most of them from Bihar, were killed and 57 others were injured on Tuesday as their bus fell into a gorge after ramming into the railing of a bridge here on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, 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.
Officials said the bus, which was on its way to Katra from Amritsar, met with the accident in Jhajjar Kotli area. Katra is a base camp for pilgrims visiting the famous shrine atop the Trikuta hills.
"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.
The fifty-seven injured have been admitted to the GMC hospital in Jammu and two of them are critical. "Two persons were brought dead in the hospital while others have died on the spot," said Soodan, the principal.
A CRPF officer said 10 bodies have been recovered.
The bus skidded off the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway and rolled down the bridge over a nullah at Jajjar Kotli between 6.30 and 7 am, the officials said.
They said most of the travellers were from Bihar's Lakhisarai and were on a pilgrimage to Mata Vaishno Devi for a religious function of their child. They were members of an extended family.
Ravinder Panday, one of the travellers, said they felt that something hit the bus. "It lost balance and rolled down. The vehicle was on its way from Amritsar to Katra carrying people who were going for pilgrimage to the cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi," 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 went down.
The front wheels came off and got stuck in the parapet of the bridge.
"We were on the way to pay obeisance to Mata Vaishno Devi temple and perform Mundan of our child. We were serval 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 kilometres before the spot of the accident, but passengers said the driver seemed to have lost the direction and was probably going to the Udhampur-Srinagar side of the highway.
On May 21, a 27-year-old woman was killed and 24 people were injured when a Rajasthan-bound bus carrying Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims overturned in Jammu and Kashmir's Reasi district.
(With PTI inputs)