Twenty-seven passengers, including seven members of a family, travelling in a Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) bus died while 11 others were injured after the vehicle fell into a 325-foot-deep ravine after colliding with a truck at Malshej Ghat, 125km from Thane, around 9.30am on Thursday. The bus with 38 passengers on board — mostly from Ahmednagar’s Aane village — was on its way from Thane to Ahmednagar, a distace of 245km, when the accident took place.
The truck carrying wooden logs came from the other side without a warning. While trying to avoid the truck at a sharp turn, the bus driver lost control of the vehicle and it fell into the ravine which is full of trees. It was not a head-on collision, but the impact was so strong that the bus swerved out of control and broke barricades before falling down. The truck overturned near a steep curve.
Thane resident Popat Santu Devkar, 38, who survived the accident says this is his second life. He was thrown out of the bus window, but managed to cling on to tree branches before help arrived.
“I was too scared to look down at the valley... it was full of dead bodies. I prayed to god to save me.
Help arrived 30 minutes later when road construction workers threw ropes down the ravine to rescue survivors. I managed to hold on to one and climbed back to safety. I was praying at every step. When I looked back, I realised I was lucky,” said Devkar, who was on his way to attend a jatra (fair) at Aane village, an annual ritual for him.
The Aaher family was not so lucky. Seven members of the family perished in the accident while three, including two women, were injured. “They were residents of Thane and Chembur, and were going to the jatra in their village,” said Santosh Aher, their relative.
The MSRTC will bear the medication and hospitalisation expenses of the injured. “A compensation of Rs3 lakh will be given to the kin of the deceased,” said Mukund Dhas, public relations officer with MSRTC. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has also assured of a Rs2 lakh compensation to the family of the deceased and Rs15,000 for the injured.
MSRTC bus driver TB Bonge and conductor KN Choudhari are among the dead. So far, 18 bodies have been identified of which 12 are of those belonging to Aane village. The injured have been admitted to civil and private hospitals in Murbad, Aale Phata, Ottur and Pune.
The police said the accident took place barely an hour after the bus began its journey to Ahmednagar and that the truck driver who fled from the spot has been arrested. Locals rushed to the spot to rescue passengers before the fire brigade and the police arrived.
The road leading to Malshej Ghat was temporarily blocked as it was filled with rescue workers and officials. The rescue operation was severely hampered by the steep slopes and erratic communication network. Malshej Ghat, a mountain pass in the Western Ghats in Thane district, is notorious for landslides during the monsoon.
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