Islamabad: At least 25 local tourists, mostly students, were feared drowned when a bridge collapsed in Neelum Valley in Kashmir Sunday. Five bodies have been recovered so far and eleven injured were rescued and moved to local hospital in Muzaffarabad for medical treatment, according to local media reports.
“Though we are yet to confirm an exact figure, it is believed that between 20 to 25 persons were standing on the footbridge when it collapsed,” said Mirza Zahid Hussain, the superintendent of police in Neelum Valley.
The tourists were swept away by strong currents in the Jagran Nullah when the footbridge crumbled, police said.
The Neelum valley deputy commissioner, however, said more than 40 tourists took a stop to take pictures on the bridge, when it collapsed as it could not withstand the weight. Some locals suggested on social media that “the pedestrian suspension bridge could not bear the load of more than five people at a time.”
“The students were enjoying the view of the green water and taking selfies when suddenly it collapsed” Raja Mubasher, who witnessed the footbridge’s collapse, was quoted as saying.
Local residents said the victims were likely students of two medical colleges from Lahore and Faisalabad touring the scenic valley.
Personnel of the Pakistan Army are assisting in the operation, said local media reports, adding that the extremely cold water of the river and its strong currents are hindering efforts to recover the tourists.
Kashmir Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider Khan also reached the scene to personally supervise the rescue operation. He directed the deputy commissioner of the district to accelerate the search.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has expressed grief and sorrow over the incident in Neelum Valley and directed the authorities concerned to make utmost efforts in rescue operation.
Expressing grief over the loss of innocent lives, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa directed all possible assistance to civil administration for relief and rescue operations, said a media release by the Inter-Services Public Relations.
A special SSG divers’ team was sent for search operation and army troops along with doctors and paramedics are taking part in the rescue efforts.
The Neelum valley is a popular tourist spot, which draws hundreds of thousands of tourists from across the country, especially in summer.
On July 7 last year, a tourist family from Rawalpindi also faced a similar tragedy when three of its young members were swept away around the same spot.