“I heard a loud bang and rushed out only to see the bus falling down. It reached bottom of the hill quickly,” Sahil Kumar, a witness, told the Times of India.
Kangra officials described a chaotic scene in the moments after the crash, which occurred about 300 miles north of New Delhi. Villagers acted as first responders, rushing to the scene the moment they heard the bus smash into the rocky gorge, local officials told the Times. Blood drenched the villagers’ shirts as they carried the deceased children’s bodies in their arms.
“We had to cut open the body of the bus to pull out the victims and survivors,” Santosh Patial, Kangra's police chief told the newspaper. “We have been able to account for 38 people in the bus. As a precaution, we are making sure no one fell out at the time of the accident.”
Local officials fear the death toll will rise, as 11 other children were injured in what many consider the worst school bus accident in the region in recent years. The children are between 5 and 14 years of age, according to the Times of India. The Associated Press, however, reports that some of those who died were as young as 4.
Ten children were hospitalized, according to the AP. Of those children, at least three are in critical condition, according to the Times of India. The four adults killed included the driver, two teachers and a woman who asked for a ride, local officials said.
Bus accidents are common in India, especially in the hills, where poor infrastructure, deep potholes and a lack of guardrails can present formidable driving conditions. In early 2017, at least 15 children were killed and 45 others injured after their school bus collided with a truck in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
India has some of the deadliest roads in the world, with more than 200,000 traffic fatalities each year, according to 2013 data from the World Health Organization. The nation’s Supreme Court has called India’s roads “giant killers.” Experts have told The Washington Post that many of those accused in accidents go free because of weak and outdated motor vehicle regulations, routine corruption, lagging investigations and slow court trials.
The Wazir Ram Singh Pathania private school’s bus left campus around 3 p.m. Monday. It had barely been driven four miles when the driver, Madan Lal, lost control of the bus, according to the Times of India. The bus fell at least 200 feet, according to local reports.
Local officials told the Times of India that they are still investigating the cause.
By Monday night, the search for survivors had ended, according to the AP. The bodies of those deceased lay covered in sheets on the floor of the Nurpur mortuary.
“I am deeply anguished by the loss of lives,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet. “My prayers and solidarity with those who lost their near and dear ones in the accident.”
More about: #India