For Girish, a routine bus ride to Pandavapura in Mandya on Saturday, turned into a life-changing disaster when the vehicle plunged into the Vishweshwariah Canal in Kanaganamaradi village in Karnatakaâ€™s Mandya district.
Girish, who was sitting on the window seat, managed to swim to safety after the bus fell into the water. "There was no choice but to swim and hope that you don't drown," he told a TV channel hours after the incident.
Four of his relatives travelling with him in the bus, however, died in the accident.
At least 21 people were confirmed dead and four others were missing after local authorities undertook an extensive operation to lift the bus and search for missing persons. Around 5 school children were confirmed dead while Rohit, a 6th standard student from the government school in Kanaganamaradi, survived the incident.
Eyewitnesses told TNM that the only other survivors from the incident are the driver and the conductor of the bus. The duo is absconding after swimming to safety.
The bus, which was registered in 2001, regularly traverses the route between Pandavapura and Mandya. It is still not clear what caused the bus to plunge into the canal. "We are investigating what caused the incident. A few witnesses have suggested that the brake and steering of the bus stopped working. An FIR has been filed and we are investigating whether there was negligence on the part of the driver that could have led to the accident," said a police official from Pandavapura police station.
According to the police, the bus was approaching a bend in Kanaganamaradi at around 40-50 kmph when it toppled over the side and fell into the canal, some distance away from the road. The canal is 12-feet deep. There was no other vehicle involved in the incident.
Thousands of people thronged the scene of the accident as the news spread through the district. Police were forced to set up barricades near the spot. Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy cancelled his commitments for the day and rushed to the scene of the accident. He also announced Rs. 5 lakh compensation to the families who lost their loved ones in the accident.
Condolences poured in from all corners including from the Prime Minister's office.
Deeply pained the bus accident in Karnatakaâ€™s Mandya. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased. May God give them strength in this hour of sadness: PM @narendramodiâ€” PMO India (@PMOIndia) November 24, 2018
The bus was eventually lifted using a crane in the evening. According to the officials at the Mandya RTO office, the bus had a valid fitness certificate and was insured up to May 2019.
The inquest into the incident is set to continue, with officials fearing that the death toll will go up further. The police are searching for the driver and the conductor of the bus.