Sonada, Oct. 13: Three tourists were killed and six persons, including a six-year-old, seriously injured when a jeep fell into a 400-ft gorge off National Highway 55 here this morning.
Three families were on their way to Tiger Hill from Bagdogra to catch an early sunrise when the mishap took place near the Sanni Mandir at 4.45 am.
Two of the dead, Prabal Haldar and Tapan Khan, both in their mid-thirties, were posted at the air force base in Bagdogra. Tapan’s brother Madan Khan, who had come on holiday to Bagdogra from Kharagpur, also died in the accident.
While all the male heads of families died on the spot, their wives were said to be stable. The injured include Banalata Haldar, 26, and her son Arnab, 6, Tapan’s wife Naomi, 28, Madan’s wife Pushpa, 50, driver Rupen Allay, 22, and the helper of the jeep Nakul Richkey, 20.
Police, along with fire brigade personnel from Darjeeling and Kurseong, rushed to the spot and got the injured admitted to the Sonada Primary Health Centre from where they were referred to the sadar hospital in Darjeeling.
Banalata said: “We started from Bagdogra at 2 am to see the sunrise. On the way, the vehicle developed a snag and it took us more than an hour to fix it. The driver then accelerated the jeep, but I told him to slow down even if that meant missing the sunrise. Then all of a sudden, something went wrong and I lost consciousness.”
Till late in the afternoon, the women were unaware about their husbands’ fate.
“Is my husband all right' It has just been six months that he had arrived from Gujarat. Please call my relatives from Diamond Harbour or call Bimal Ghosh, my landlord at Bagdogra,” said Banalata, clutching Arnab.
The families were to return to Siliguri in the evening. The place where the accident occurred has a relatively wide and straight stretch, raising suspicion that the accident occurred due to high speed and reckless driving.
The driver, however, denied travelling at breakneck speed.
“I was driving smoothly when the vehicle suddenly started wobbling. I instantly applied the brakes and the jeep just skidded off the road,” said Alley.
The impact of the accident was such that the body of the vehicle was completely dismantled and flew off in different directions. The wreckage could not be recovered because of the steep incline.