At least 18 people were today killed and 24 others injured when a private bus plunged into the Beas river near Vindravani in Mandi district, about 155 km from here.
The ill-fated bus with over 40 passengers on board was travelling to Kullu from Manali when it veered off the road while trying to avoid a motorcyclist and fell into the turbulent Beas, police officers said.
Fourteen people died on the spot, three succumbed to their injuries in the zonal hospital at Mandi, while one critically injured person died on the way to Indira Gandhi Medical College in Shimla, police said.
The incident took place hardly 3 km from Mandi. The injured people were rushed to the zonal hospital there. Mandi Deputy Commissioner Sandeep Kadam and IG Ajay Yadav immediately reached the spot along with rescue teams.
Though there was only a remote possibility of passengers getting washed away in the river, divers have been called in as a precautionary measure to locate missing persons, if any, Kadam said.
The Mandi DC said rescue operations were in progress and all possible help is being provided to the victims. Mandi SDM, Vivek Chandel, said Rs 15,000 has been given as immediate relief to the next of kin of the deceased while the injured have been given Rs 5,000 each.
Transport minister G S Bali expressed deep shock over the accident and said a magisterial inquiry has been ordered to ascertain its cause.
He said besides the insurance claim of Rs 1 lakh, the next of kin of the deceased would be given Rs 4 lakh and seriously injured persons Rs 25,000 as relief.
Most of the people travelling in the bus were from Mandi and Kullu and other places on the Mandi-Kullu National Highway 21.
Meanhwile, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh conveyed his condolences to the bereaved families and wished speedy recovery to injured. He directed the district administration to provide all possible assistance to the family members of the victims and those injured in the accident.
In his condolence message, Governor Acharya Devvrat expressed sympathy with the families of the deceased and prayed for peace of the departed souls.
State Health Minister Kaul Singh Thakur, Excise and Taxation Minister Prakash Chaudhary and Panchayati Raj, and Rural Development Minister Anil Sharma, all hailing from Mandi district, have also expressed grief over the accident and conveyed their condolences with bereaved family members.