Shimla: A total of 34 people, including eight women, were killed when a state roadways bus skidded off the road and fell into a 1,000-foot-deep gorge on Monday night in Himachal Pradesh's Kangra district, an official said.

All 34 bodies have been recovered, most of them on Tuesday morning, from the wreckage of the bus, while six injured people, including conductor Sumir Kumar, have been hospitalised, deputy commissioner KR Bharti said.

The 42-seater bus, ferrying passengers from Palampur to Asha Puri, a village known for a hilltop shrine, was overcrowded, one of the survivors told police.

However, most of passengers alighted from the bus at Makol village, just a few kilometres before the accident, the survivors said.

The civil authorities had to call in Indian Army personnel from Palampur, which is 250 km from here, to undertake the rescue operation that lasted more than 12 hours as the accident spot was treacherous and thickly forested.

Rescue workers used ropes to go down into the gorge to recover the bodies and the injured.

The driver was adjusting his seat when the accident occurred. "Most probably, the driver was distracted while adjusting the seat," Bharti said.

Official sources said mechanical failure was mainly responsible for the accident.

The government has ordered a magisterial probe into the accident. It announced a relief of Rs 20,000 to the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 5,000 each to the injured.

Most of the victims were locals and belonged to closely-knit families belonging to Asha Puri.

Governor Urmila Singh and chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal have expressed grief over the accident.

This is the second major accident in the state in less than a month. Fifty-three people were killed and 46 injured Aug 11 when an overcrowded private bus rolled into a 300-foot-deep gorge in Chamba district in the state.

More than 580 people have died in over 1,600 incidents of road accidents this year in the state, according to Dhumal. State capital Shimla recorded the highest number of deaths.

"As many as 586 people have lost their lives in the state from Jan 1 to July 31 in 1,669 accidents," Dhumal said in the state assembly on Aug 29.

He said in a written reply that 1,072 people died in the state in 3,099 accidents that occurred last year.


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