On a day of mourning in Himachal Pradesh, after 23 children were among 27 people who died when their school bus plunged into a gorge in Kangra Monday afternoon, the only consolation came from the story of a boy who lived — and ensured that 10 others did too.
Just nine years old and returning home from his first day in school after a break, Ranbir Singh crawled back on the road and informed a man passing by on a motorcycle about the accident. The boy also alerted a shopkeeper about 150 m away on the Malakwal-Symbly link leading to Chamba.
It was this alert that helped rescuers reach the spot within the next 30 minutes, said police and local residents.
On Monday evening, recovering from injuries on the head, arms and legs at the civil hospital in Nurpur, Ranbir told The Indian Express: “Two of us, a girl and I, fell out of the window of the bus as it fell. We rolled down and landed very close to the bus. We tried to climb back on the road several times but could not. I then told the girl to remain at the spot and finally managed to crawl up alone.”
The son of Suresh Singh, a plumber, and Renu, who died four years ago, Ranbir is a student of Wazir Ram Singh Pathania Memorial Public School in Nurpur — so were the 23 children who died, many below the age of 10.
Among those killed was 16-year-old Shagun, who had taken a lift on the bus about one kilometre away from the accident site, two women teachers and the bus driver, Madan Lal, a 67-year-old ex-serviceman.
“Shagun was returning home from her aunt’s house. I want to take her home with me. I can’t leave her body here like this,” said her grieving father, Gulshan Thakur, who owns a shop in Khanorha village.
Officials said the bus was carrying 38 people when it veered off the road after the driver lost control.
“All the children belong to local villages, it’s a black day for us,” said Rakesh Pathania, the BJP MLA from the area who reached the accident site.
President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were among those mourned the deaths.
“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,” said Kovind in a statement posted on Twitter.
“I am deeply anguished by the loss of lives… My prayers and solidarity with those who lost their near and dear ones in the accident,” said Modi in a statement posted on the official Twitter handle of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Among those at the accident site Monday was Shekhar from Sarwan village, near Nurpur, who was part of the rescue effort. “I was alerted by a friend. It took us 20 minutes to get down to the bus. We broke open the doors with stones and rods and brought the children out,” he said.
The state government announced compensation of Rs 5 lakh each for families of the victims. “We will get an inquiry done into the cause of the accident,” said Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur.
Officials said the 11 injured included six children, four of whom were in the Nurpur hospital and two in Pathankot. “Ranbir is our hero. He saved the lives of my seven-year-old Nishant and his two sisters,” said Sanjana, sitting on her son’s hospital bed in Nurpur.