Sixteen people heading towards Amarnath shrine were killed and 26 seriously injured when the bus in which they were travelling plunged into a gorge in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ramban district on Sunday, authorities said.
The Jammu and Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation bus was on its way from Jammu to the Kashmir Valley when the driver reportedly lost control over the vehicle at Nichnala near Banihal town on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.
“Sixteen people were killed on the spot while 26 others have been injured,” a police officer said. The deceased comprised 14 men and two women.
Of the injured, five were taken to Srinagar, 19 others airlifted to the Government Medical College Super Speciality Hospital in Jammu, and two were being treated in Banihal hospital.
The spokesman said the bus carried 43 persons, including the driver.
Army, police and paramilitary forces launched a rescue operation which was joined by locals, who helped to take out the injured people from the wreckage site.
This is the second tragedy to hit the Amarnath trip since militants ambushed a bus on July 10, killing eight people. The Amarnath hill shrine is located more than 3,800 metres above sea level in Anantnag district.
Authorities said the two-month tour season would continue after the attack on the bus, which was not part of the official convoy carrying people.
Tens of thousands of people from across the country travel to Kashmir every year to visit a phallus-shaped ice formation in the Amarnath caves that is worshipped as a symbol of Shiva, the deity of destruction.
The caves, which lie 3,900m high and can only be reached on foot or on horseback, are seen as a symbol of religious unity in the volatile region.
The ice formation is said to have been discovered in 1850 by a Muslim shepherd who became a custodian of the shrine, along with two Hindu priests.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and former chief minister Omar Abdullah expressed grief over the accident.
Modi said: “Extremely pained by the loss of lives of Amarnath yatris… My thoughts are with the families of the deceased. I pray that those injured recover soon.”