37 killed as bus falls into river in Maharashtra
Mist, darkness hamper rescue ops; many critical
The bus careened through a guard-rail and plunged into the river in the Khed taluk of the coastal Konkan region. The bus, belonging to Mumbai-based Mahakali Travels with around 51 passengers on board, was crossing the Bharna Bridge on the Goa-Mumbai highway and went out of control, Khed control room told Deccan Herald.
The control room till late evening refused to divulge the exact death toll, on the grounds that several injured were in extreme critical state; however, the police have been able to establish the identities of 17 dead people.
Rescue operations were hampered due to heavy mist and darkness. Later in the morning, highway patrol policemen and rescue workers descended to the river-bed and used ropes to help retrieve people from the wreckage. Divers were deployed to fish out bodies from the bus that had turned turtle on the river-bed after falling off the bridge.
Nearby villagers said the injured were admitted to Civil Hospital in Khed. An injured Russian national Marion said: “We just did not know what happened. At one point the bus was just flying in the air and then a crash. That's all I remember.”
According to State Highway Control officials, the bridge is very narrow in width and the bus-driver apparently missed the lane and swerved towards the extreme end... thereafter the bus broke the rail-guard and fell 50 feet into the river-bed. “With the help of search lights and divers, we managed to rescue people,” the officials said.
Most people travelling in the bus were from rural towns and villages on the Mumbai-Goa highway. Incidentally, the route, called the “highway to death,” had cropped up in discussion on the floor of Legislative Assembly on Monday.
Replying to a query, Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil had said in the House that in the past three years, 828 people had been killed and 2,411 injured in road accidents on the Mumbai-Goa highway.
On Tuesday, the Opposition castigated the Maharashtra government for being “indifferent towards the highway traffic and not formulating policies towards regulating luxury buses which flout and violate all laid down existing norms. Drivers are over-worked which results in many of them falling asleep at the wheel putting everybody in peril.”
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said information was being sought on the accident and the matter would be discussed in detail in the House.