A weekend tour to Shirdi turned tragic for pilgrims when a bus fell off a narrow bridge in Osmanabad district of Maharashtra early on Saturday, killing 30 people.

Sixteen were injured in the accident that shocked the State capital not only because of the high toll, but also due to the utter lack of preparedness on the part of the State agencies in responding to an emergency. The injured are being treated in different hospitals in Osmanabad and Sholapur and the condition of several of them is said to be critical.

The ill-fated Volvo, registered in Karnataka, began its journey from Hyderabad around 8 p.m. on Friday and carried 46 persons, including the crew. Thirteen passengers were employees of TCS, some of them fresh recruits who had completed their three-month training in Hyderabad. Nine of them died in the accident.

Quoting the driver's version, authorities surmised that the driver lost control of the vehicle after he was blinded by the headlamps of an oncoming vehicle and veered to the left. The bus was crossing a narrow bridge near Naldurg village and it veered off the bridge and fell 30 feet. The bridge did not have any protective railing. Death was instant for most of the victims. The possibility of the driver being drunk is also being probed.

As the news broke in Hyderabad, worried relatives and friends of the passengers besieged the office of Sree Kaleswari travel agency, which was operating the bus, at Lakdikapul here but no information was forthcoming.

The Transport Department, which issues permits for private contract carriages, initially maintained that it did not have any information as the vehicle was registered in Karnataka.

There was more confusion as the private travel agencies do not collect the addresses of the passengers who book tickets.

There was some information flow to the relatives only after Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy expressed his displeasure at the inaction of the Transport Department in getting information about the incident. Mr. Reddy also called up Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Osmanabad Collector and requested them to help the victims.

Following his instructions, Civil Supplies Minister D. Sreedhar Babu and the Commissioner of Health Praveen Prakash rushed to the accident site to oversee relief operations and arrange for medical treatment. The government arranged a fleet of ambulances to bring the victims' bodies to Hyderabad.