Dehradun: Bodies with missing limbs scattered over the bushes, some of them even hanging from trees and the mangled remains of a bus, the horrifying images of the accident of the Yamunotri-bound pilgrims will haunt Uttarkashi residents for a long time.
Damta area villagers were the first to learn about Sunday’s accident in which a bus carrying pilgrims from Madhya Pradesh’s Panna fell into a deep gorge, resulting in the death of 26 people and injuries to four.
All 26 bodies were on Monday evening sent to Madhya Pradesh from Dehradun’s Jollygrant airport in an Indian Air Force plane. The bodies were sent to Khajuraho, from where they will be taken by road to be handed over to their families, Additional Chief Secretary Radha Raturi said.
Following the tragic accident on Sunday, residents of Damta had rushed to the spot to lend a helping hand in rescue efforts and informed the authorities.
Rescue teams reached the spot within half-an-hour of the accident, but by then, the desperate cries of the accident victims had already died down, Virendra Panwar, who runs a hotel in Rikhaun Khadd, said.
Most of them had died on the spot, he said.
“I saw bodies with missing limbs lying here and there. Some of them were even hanging from the trees down the gorge,” said district panchayat member Hakam Singh Rawat, an eyewitness of the accident.
He said he was driving right behind the bus and even tried to overtake it in the course of the journey.
“However, before I could overtake it, it fell with a huge crashing sound into the gorge,” Rawat said.
Upon their arrival, the rescue teams first started looking for survivors so that they could be given medical aid at the earliest, he said.
“Rescuing the injured did not take much time as by 8 pm they had been brought on to the road but pulling the dead out of the nearly 500-metre-deep gorge in the dark was a real challenge for police, SDRF and NDRF personnel, who used ropes and torches to perform the task,” NDRF Inspector Sanjay said.
Aided by villagers, the rescue operations lasted for over seven hours, starting around 7.30 pm and concluding at 3 am after the recovery of all 26 bodies and the rescue of four injured persons.
Apart from the bus driver and the conductor, there were 28 pilgrims from Madhya Pradesh on the bus.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who arrived here late on Sunday night after hearing about the tragedy, visited the spot along with his Uttarakhand counterpart Pushkar Singh Dhami in the morning.
Chouhan said he had requested Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to provide an IAF plane to take the dead bodies back.
“Our effort is to take the bodies of the devotees back to their homes with dignity,” he told reporters there. The Madhya Pradesh chief minister also thanked the local administration and the people.
Dhami said a magisterial probe into the accident has been ordered to find the exact cause.
Though the actual cause will be known only after the probe, eyewitnesses said the driver lost control of the bus while making room on a bend for another vehicle coming from the opposite direction.
There was some miscalculation on the part of the driver, and the vehicle fell into the gorge after breaking the roadside barrier, they claimed.
A total of 69 pilgrims from Madhya Pradesh had left in two buses from Haridwar for Yamunotri on Sunday, Ved Bihari Awasthi, a pilgrim from Panna, said.
Those on the other bus came to know about the accident when it came to a stop behind a row of vehicles and they heard people talking about another bus falling into a gorge.
They sensed something was amiss and started calling up the people on the other bus but nobody answered, Awasthi said.
Someone answered a phone after a while and informed them about the incident, he added.