Twenty-two people were killed and 14 injured when an overcrowded mini-bus fell into a 200-ft-deep gorge on Saturday after its driver lost control over the vehicle on Jammu-Srinagar National Highway in Ramban district, officials said.
Among the dead were three members of a family and the driver. Ten critically injured passengers were airlifted from the accident site to the Army Hospital at Udhampur and two others to Jammu, they said.
The vehicle was on its way to Ramban town from Banihal when the accident occurred. The driver lost control of the"overcrowded" vehicle which rolled down the deep gorge at Kela Morh near Maroof, Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), Doda Kishtwar-Ramban range, Rafiq-ul-Hassan, told PTI.
Officials said 15 people died on the spot, while seven others died in different hospitals.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik and leaders of various political parties expressed grief over the loss of lives in the accident. Mr Malik announced a grant of Rs 5 lakh each to the families of those killed.
Local volunteers launched a rescue operation soon after the accident and were shortly joined by the quick reaction teams of police and the Army, officials said.
Deputy Commissioner, Ramban, Showkat Aijaz and Senior Superintendent of Police Anita Sharma reached the site to supervise the rescue operation and subsequently requisitioned choppers to airlift the critically injured persons.
A total of six sorties were made by the Army's Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, a private airliner and a state helicopter.
"The critically injured persons were airlifted to the Army Hospital at Udhampur and Government Medical College Hospital at Jammu for specialised treatment," the DIG said and praised the rescuers for reaching the accident victims "in the shortest possible time", thus saving many lives.
Leaders of National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Panthers Party (NPP) expressed shock over the accident and called for adequate compensation to the families of the victims.
PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has sought immediate release of relief and other assistance. She urged the Jammu divisional administration to provide all necessary medical facilities to the injured.