More than two dozen were killed Monday afternoon as a school bus driver lost control of the vehicle and fell 300 feet in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh in Northern India. The Himachal bus crash caused the death of at least 23 school children, 13 boys and 10 girls, between the ages of 4 and 12 years old. Most of the children killed were said to be between 10 and 12 years old. 11 children were admitted to the hospital, two of which are still in critical condition, according to local news outlets.
In addition to the 23 school children killed, two female teachers, the bus driver, and an unnamed woman who had hitched a ride on the bus, also perished in the worst bus crash in the region in years. 27 bodies have been recovered so far, but the violent crash and mangled remains of the bus have made rescue and recovery efforts difficult. The school bus was carrying 34 elementary school children total home from a normal school day at a local private school, the Wazir Ram Singh Pathania Memorial School.
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Rakesh Pathania, a local politician, who was at the site of the Himachal bus crash said the site was, “full of panic, cries, chaos and disaster.” He also told the New York Times that 12 children were still in the hospital, with one remaining in critical condition.
A local official, Santosh Patial, told the Times of India, “We had to cut open the body of the bus to pull out the victims and survivors,” he said. “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.”
The children were on their way home from school when the bus crashed between 3:15 and 4pm local time, falling into a deep ravine.
A Young Hero
One child on board was able to escape the Himachal bus crash and seek help for his trapped and injured classmates, despite having sustained injuries. After being ejected from the bus as it rolled down the hill, Ranbir, of Class 5, walked up the hill to alert others to the accident and get help for his schoolmates. Ranbir was later admitted to the hospital, having sustained injuries to his arm and head.
The small hero comes from the village of Gurchar where his father works as a farmer. His father reported that he was proud of his son, who is usually mischievous.
Ranbir told reporters, “The bus was rolling down when I fell out off the vehicle. I felt giddy and after regaining consciousness I tried to climb up the steep gorge. I used a stick and some grass to reach the road and then informed people about the accident.”
After being alerted to the accident by Ranbir, passerbyers worked together to bring the injured children to a nearby hospital before the ambulance arrived at the scene. Up to 400 locals worked to rescue the children who were trapped inside of the badly crushed bus, using rods and stones to open up the crushed bus. Eventually, rescue worked had to cut the bus open, but many children had already died from suffocation or head trauma.
Why Did the Bus Crash
According to the World Health Organization, India has the highest rate of traffic related fatalities.
Bus accidents are not uncommon in India due to poor infrastructure and safety measures. Himachal is located in the mountainous region of the Himalayas, making the risk for such an accident even more severe. The treacherous roads in the region are often poorly paved and lack guard rails along hair thin curves to prevent vehicles from falling into ditches and ravines, as was the case in the Himachal bus crash.
Some reports have indicated the bus driver lost control of the vehicle and was driving recklessly. Unfortunately, the bus driver also perished in the Himachal bus crash, so there is no way to be sure of the cause.
The local government has said that it is not yet clear why the bus crashed, but an inquiry would be carried out. Ranveer Singh, a 10 year old boy who survived the crash said, told the Hindustan Times that he heard a loud bang before the bus began to roll. He also described how he survived the crash, “Just then the window near my seat broke and I and a girl sitting by my side fell out.” The girl he was sitting besides survived the Himachal bus crash as well.
Some have wondered whether the school could be to blame. The principal of the Wazir Ram Singh Pathania Memorial School, Sunita Kumari, said, “The bus had been inspected by all the authorities and had met all norms.”
Tuesday morning, another bus driver lost control of the vehicle near the city of Pune, India. At least 17 people were killed including children.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind soon tweeted his condolences, “Extremely saddened to learn about the tragic school bus accident in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. Thoughts and prayers with the bereaved families and with those injured #PresidentKovind”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi likewise took to Twitter to issue his condolences for the victims of the Himachal bus crash and their families, “I am deeply anguished by the loss of lives. My prayers and solidarity with those who lost their near and dear ones.”
Rahul Gandhi, President of Congress, tweeted a call to action:
“I’m deeply disturbed and saddened by the bus accident in Himachal, that has claimed many lives, including those of 26 children. I urge our Congress party workers in Himachal to provide all the assistance they can, to the families of the victims and to those who are injured.”
Jairam Thakur, chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, also expressed his condolences and assured families a thorough investigation will be carried out.
The government has said the families of the children killed will receive 5 lakh Indian rupees ($7,700 USD).
After identifying the bodies at the state mortuary, families of the young victims have begun to prepare the bodies for cremation in accordance with Hindu religious tradition. The cremations are expected to take place Tuesday.