Shimla: At least 21 passengers were killed and five others injured when a state roadways bus Tuesday rolled down into a gorge in Himachal Pradesh’s Shimla district, police said.

The Himachal Road Transport Corporation bus was on way from Shimla to Savera Khad in Kumarsain area of the district when the accident occurred near Kadhar Ghat in Basantpur area, around 60 km from here.

Superintendent of Police D.W. Negi told IANS that the bus fell into a 400 m deep gorge. He said the cause of the accident is yet to be ascertained.

The driver of the bus jumped out of the vehicle, Negi added.

Locals said the accident spot has been experiencing continuous rainfall for the past many days. “The bus was giving way to another vehicle when the road, where the ill-fated bus was stationed, collapsed,” said a witness.

The injured have been taken to the Indira Gandhi Medical College and Hospital in Shimla.

Eyewitnesses said the administration had a tough time extricating the victims from the badly-mangled bus. They said the condition of the road, alternate to the National Highway 22, where the accident occurred is good as it is maintained by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), an organisation under the defence ministry.

People in the area began rescue operations even before the district authorities reached the spot.

It took hours for rescuers and police to climb down the mountain and bring up the bodies. The rainfall in the region hampered the rescue operation, police officials said.

Most of the victims were from Shimla district.

Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh expressed shock and grief over the accident and directed the district administration to take all possible measures to rescue the victims and provide them adequate relief.

Earlier in the day, a major bus accident was averted when another state roadways bus carrying over 60 passengers got trapped in the mud owing to landslide and skidded off the road in Balsan area on the Theog-Chopal road.

Police said 48 passengers got minor injuries.