A van carrying at least 30 schoolchildren plunged into a river in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on Tuesday, and most of the passengers were confirmed or feared dead.
The driver lost control of the vehicle and it plunged 50 feet into the Jhelum River from an elevated road in the “capital” Muzaffarabad, said local police chief Ghulam Akber. Authorities managed to save the driver and four children, he said.
But school teacher Bashir Mughal said rescue workers took more than an hour to arrive and it was local villagers who rescued the four children from the water.
Fifteen bodies have been recovered from various parts of the river, but the other children are still missing, Mr. Akber said. Some bodies may have been collected by local residents before authorities arrived, he said.
Mohammad Ramzan, a driver from Kanina village — home to most of the children in the van — said he lost four daughters and one son in the accident.
“God had given me those children and he has taken them away,” Mr. Ramzan said, as his wife cried. “All I can do is to live with the sadness of this tragedy my whole life.”
His wife’s cries were echoed by many other women in the village who had also lost their children. Some pounded their heads and chests as they wailed, while men dug new graves in the village cemetery.
Many other men from the village joined hundreds of people along the river that desperately searched for the missing children. Rescue workers dove beneath the water looking for bodies as soldiers and police tried to hold back the crowds.
The children involved in the accident were returning from school after attending a function, said Mr. Akber, the local police chief.
Officials initially estimated there were 30 children in the van, but the number could be higher because some of the children who attended the function were not regular passengers, Mr. Akber said.
Rescue workers managed to remove the van from the river, but they didn’t find any children inside, said Mughal, the school teacher.
“All the children washed away, and people are finding bodies alongside the river at distant places,” he said.