15 dead, 2 injured as passenger jeep veers off road in AJK

In another devastating road accident in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), 15 people lost their lives and two others were injured when their passenger jeep plummeted hundreds of feet down the road onto the bank of the Neelum River on Wednesday, allegedly due to a technical fault, officials said.

The Muzaffarabad-bound jeep, modified to carry more passengers than its normal capacity, was transporting 16 people, including the driver.

All passengers were from Lawat Bala, a village located some 100 kilometres from Muzaffarabad in the upper belt of Neelum Valley, from where the vehicle started its journey early Wednesday morning.

According to Deputy Commissioner Muzaffarabad Nadeem Ahmed Janjua, shortly before the village of Devlian, some 35 kilometers from Muzaffarabad, the vehicle veered to the right and fell down the main artery.

The Lesva bypass to Neelum Valley stems from the main Neelum Valley Road in the same area towards the riverside.

After falling from the main road, the vehicle first struck the bypass road and tumbled further down to the riverbank, stopping just short of plunging into the river, he said.

Janjua said that the main road at the accident site was quite wide and could easily accommodate four vehicles passing simultaneously from opposite directions.

“Initial assessment suggests that the tie-rod of the passenger jeep broke, causing the driver to lose control,” he said.

Before the vehicle came to a halt near the riverbank and was reduced to a twisted mass of metal, almost all passengers were thrown out onto the rocks, he added.

Rescuers found 14 people dead at the scene, and two others — both children — surviving with critical injuries.

Those who died on the spot were identified as Muhammad Ashraf, 50, son of Akbar Jalal; Ghulam Yasin, 60, son of Muhammad Younus; Muhammad Farid Butt, 24, son of Abdul Rauf Butt and his siblings, Salma, 16, and Salim Butt, 12; Resham Jan, 65, widow of Sarwar Khan and her son Majid Khan, 27; Tariq Mir, 25, son of Ghulam Rabbani (driver); Zardana Bibi, 45, wife of Abdul Latif and her daughter Zeenat Bibi, 13; Saima Bibi, 40, wife of Arif Butt; Rafique Butt, 19, son of Farooq Butt, and his siblings Ishrat Bibi, 14, and Tanzeel Butt, 12.

The survivors were identified as Ahsan Farooq, 10, son of Farooq Butt, and Nabeel, 7, son of Abdul Latif.

Ulfat Bibi, 45, a resident of the Devlian area, who was cutting grass on the mountainside was also injured after being struck by the tumbling vehicle.

All three of the injured were taken to CMH Muzaffarabad, where Ahsan succumbed to his wounds, an official at the hospital said, adding, that Nabeel was also in critical condition but Ulfat was out of danger.

Road accidents frequently occur in the mountainous areas of AJK and are blamed mostly on faulty and worn-out public transport vehicles, many of which are altered by their greedy owners to accommodate more people than their normal seating capacity. However, a lack of road safety measures also contribute to accidents.

Ironically, the vehicles are given fitness certificates by the authorities concerned despite the hue and cry by civil society.

“The cause of accidents in suburban areas are the fitness certificates issued to altered vehicles. Who will take action against those responsible for these accidents,” wrote former civil servant Muhammad Tariq Shaheen on social media platform X, along with the image of the fitness certificate of the ill-fated vehicle.

Almost similar concerns were voiced by PML-N regional president Shah Ghulam Qadir, while expressing condolences over the tragic loss of “his own people” from a single village in a press statement.

“The government should immediately ban run-down vehicles in Neelum Valley on an emergency basis to prevent such incidents in the future.

“These vehicles don’t even undergo proper fitness tests by the concerned authorities,” he said.

He stressed that a new public transport policy was essential so that people across AJK, especially in hilly areas like Neelum, could have access to safe, quality, and affordable transportation without the fear of accidents.

Expressing regrets over the huge tragedy, PTI regional president Sardar Abdul Qayyum Niazi pointed out that lately the ratio of accidents in Neelum district had increased and called upon the government to take effective steps to prevent road accidents.

On June 9, 17 people, including six tourists, drowned when an automobile plunged into Neelum River after the edge of the narrow road gave way under its weight. That jeep had also been modified for maximum loading capacity.

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