MUZAFFARABAD: At least six people drowned and another 10, mostly women and children, were missing after a passenger jeep plunged into the icy Neelum River in the upper belt of Neelum Valley on Sunday, officials said.

The accident occurred at around 1am when a jeep, believed to have been modified to carry more passengers than its normal capacity, fell into the river when it was heading from Kel to the valley’s last village Taobutt.

According to ASI Imdad Ali Shah, the police officer in charge of the Janawai village post, the vehicle was carrying 24 people.

Of them, seven tourists from a Multan-based family and 11 members of the Gujjar Bakarwal community were inside the vehicle, and one nomad and five locals were riding on the roof.

The accident occurred near Parri Karimabad while the jeep was ascending a steep portion of the road.

The vehicle veered to the right side of the road to avoid a flock of sheep and goats on the left.

Unfortunately, the edge of the road gave way under the weight, causing the jeep to tumble 300 feet into the river.

All six persons on the rooftop managed to jump to safety before the vehicle fell. One survivor confirmed in a video on social media that the edge of the road collapsed under the vehicle’s weight.

The tourists from Samanabad, Multan were identified as Tanveer, 36, his wife Hibba Ayesha, Ammar Ali and his wife Mashal Bibi, 23, Javed Akhtar, 55, and his wife Saima Shabnam, 50 (parents of Hibba Ayesha and Mashal Bibi), and Ammar Ali’s seven-year-old son Sudesh. Members of the Gujjar Bakarwal community from Gulpur Kalar Syedan included Aman, 55, and his wife Phullan Jan, 51, Faheem Jan, 50, wife of Hussain, Mewa Jan, 40, and her 10-year-old daughter Surayya, Safeer, 8, Nadeem, 5, sons of Babu, Hafeez, 8, Beena, 5, and Waheed, 4, children of Pervez.

Babu, 55, who was on the rooftop, was injured after jumping. The driver, Nawaz, 28, and Mudassar, a four-year-old boy from the nomad community, were also injured after being thrown onto the riverbank before the vehicle hit the water. Of those who were trapped inside the vehicle, only tourist Tanveer was able to swim to the riverbank with injuries, ASI Shah said.

Rescue operations were launched, but by evening, only six bodies had been recovered. They were of Javed Akhtar, Mashal Bibi, and Sudesh from the tourists, and Aman, his wife Phullan Jan, and Safeer from the nomads.

Another police official informed Dawn at 9pm that the vehicle’s wreckage had not been located.

“Either it’s somewhere on the riverbed or has been swept away,” he said, adding that chances of survival of the 10 missing persons were slim.

The rescue operation was suspended due to darkness and will resume at the crack of dawn, he said.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2024

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