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J&K: Joyride turns fatal for 18 school kids

By Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
Last updated on: May 31, 2006 09:16 IST
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At least 18 school children have drowned while 15 have been rescued when the boat carrying them on a joyride capsized in the Wullar lake in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday.

Navy divers have fished out 18 bodies so far and are scouring the waters of the lake at Watla, 75km from Srinagar, for more bodies or possible survivors, said police sources.

The mishap occurred when a naval boat, carrying a group of nearly 40 school children, capsized while negotiating a curve, police sources said.

The students, belonging to the Burn Candle High School in Handwara town of Kupwara district, had gone to Watlab for an excursion.

Prior permission had been given by the naval authorities to the school for the joyride in Wullar lake (the largest freshwater lake in Asia), a defence spokesman said, adding that the boat capsized due to weight imbalance created due to the over-excitement of the kids.

Although the exact number of children who were on board the boat was not known, the defence spokesman said Navy personnel posted at the lake had rescued one teacher and 14 children.

As the teacher and rescued children were in a state of shock and removed to hospital at Sopore, the exact number of students on board the boat could not be ascertained, he said.

As the news of the mishap spread, anxious parents and relatives of the students, who came all the way from Handwara
to Watlab, turned violent and were joined by some locals in torching a tourism hut on the bank of the lake.

Rescue work has been hampered by darkness and formation of innumerable whirlpools in the lake during evening hours.

Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad expressed his grief and said an inquiry would be conducted into the incident. "Our prime focus right now is to see how many people we can rescue from the lake," he said.

With Agency Inputs

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Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar