Seven persons including four members of a Delhi-based family and three locals were killed after a tree fell on Gondola ropeway in famed ski-resort of Gulmarg in north Kashmir on Sunday, snapping cables and bringing a cable car cabin crashing hundreds of feet to ground.
The incident, according to officials, is believed to have occurred after a pine tree got uprooted due to high-speed winds in the first phase of Gondola cable car project.
The deceased were identified as Jayant Andraskar, his wife Manisha and their two daughters, Anagha and Janhavi, and three locals Mukhtar Ahmad Ganaie son of Ali Muhammad of Chonthpathri Babareshi, Farooq Ahmad Chopan son of Abdul Ghani of Babareshi and Jahangir Ahmad Khanday son of Muhammad Akram of Warpora Tangmarg.
"During high speed winds, a pine tree got uprooted and fell on a cable which derailed the cable car cabin in which the victims were travelling," said Riyaz Ahmad Malik, general manager of Gandola Cable Car Project.
He said the high speed winds hit the area suddenly despite the climate being pleasant since morning.
All the injured were rushed to nearby Gulmarg hospital where they were declared as brought dead.
At the time of the incident, more than a hundred tourists were struck in the ropeway, officials said.
The Baramulla police along with drivers of All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) launched massive rescue operation in the area and managed to rescue the trapped tourists.
"Soon after receiving information about the incident, several police teams were rushed to the area which, along with drivers of ATV, started the rescue operation. All the tourists trapped in the cable car were successfully brought to ground," said Imtiyaz Hussain, senior superintendent of police, Baramulla.
Meanwhile questions are being raised over the incident.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah in his tweet attributed the incident to "failure" of Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) laid down for the cable car project.
"If this has happened, it begs the question as to why the cable car operations were not suspended in high winds. That is a laid down SOP," Omar tweeted.
Meanwhile, the state government ordered investigation into the incident and announced Rs five lakh compensation to next of kin of deceased.
"The investigation will focus on how and why the cable got derailed from the pulley after it was hit by a tree during the high-intensity winds," said divisional commissioner Kashmir, Baseer Ahmad Khan.
In a statement, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed grief and shock over the tragic accident.
Mehbooba, who was herself monitoring the rescue operations, announced ex-gratia relief of Rs five lakh in favour of next of kin of the killed, an official spokesman said.
"She has also directed conducting of a high-level inquiry to know the causes or lapses, if any, that led to the accident," the spokesman said.
The chief minister has also conveyed her grief and condolence to the families of three local youth killed in the accident. Governor N N Vohra expressed grief over the tragic loss of lives in the unfortunate accident at Gulmarg tourist resort.
In a message, the governor has prayed for peace to the departed souls and wished the bereaved families the strength to bear this sad loss.
Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh has expressed deep anguish and sorrow over the death of seven persons, including four tourists in a tragic accident at Gulmarg Gandola site.
In a condolence message, the Deputy Chief Minister has conveyed his sympathies with the bereaved families and prayed for peace to the departed souls.
Meanwhile, Dr. Singh has urged upon the authorities to make immediate arrangements for shifting the mortal remains of tourists to their homes and appropriate compensation to the next of the kin.
National Conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah and Working President Omar Abdullah expressed deep grief over deaths in the tragic Gandola mishap in Gulmarg.
Conveying their condolences to the bereaved families, the President and Working President prayed for peace to the departed souls. They sought immediate assistance for those injured in the mishap and the families who have lost their dear ones in the mishap.
Director Tourism, Kashmir, Mahmood A Shah described the incident as very unfortunate. He said it happened due to felling of a tree over the ropeway.
Giving details about the incident, Shah said it happened due to the heavy winds which uprooted a tree that later fell on ropes between tower number 7 and 8 of the Cable Car Project. "One cabin got derailed from its pulley and crashed down resulting into the tragic death of seven people," he said.
Shah said the administration has made necessary efforts to take back the cabin, fixed the ropes and ferried stranded tourists back to Gulmarg bowl.