AGRA, India: At least 29 people were killed after a bus careered off one of India's busiest expressways and into a ravine on Monday (Jul 8), police said.
The driver was suspected to have fallen asleep before the double-decker bus hit a divider and fell into a gap between two flyovers on the Yamuna expressway between Delhi and Agra, according to police.
Eighteen people were injured, some critically, police said.
The state-run bus was taking more than 50 people from Lucknow in northern Uttar Pradesh state to Delhi when the accident happened at about 4.15am (2245 GMT) some 20km outside of Agra.
It fell more than 12m into a drain below the road, crushing the roof of the bus. Running water in the drain complicated rescue efforts, police said.
"Twenty nine persons have died and 18 others are injured," said Agra district magistrate N G Ravi Kumar at the scene of the accident. "It appears that the driver was drowsy."
More than a dozen passengers were injured and have been admitted to hospital, police was quoted as saying by local media reports.
People living in the area said they were woken by the crash and found the badly-mangled bus submerged in blackish-grey water.
"We rushed out of our homes and saw people screaming for help. We got into the drain and tried to save some of them. Soon police arrived and quickly brought cranes," one witness told reporters.
More than 150,000 people a year are killed on India's roads which are notorious for poor design and speeding drivers.
The 165-kilometre Yamuna expressway was India's longest six-lane highway when it opened in 2012 but about 900 people have been killed on the road since, according to authorities
Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, paid his condolences and asked authorities to provide all necessary help to the injured and families of those killed in the crash, NDTV reported.
He has also ordered a probe to find out the exact cause of the accident, with the committee set to provide a report within 24 hours of the crash.
The state chief minister also ordered cash compensation of 500,000 rupees (US$7,289) for the family of each of the dead.
Most of the victims were sleeping when the driver lost control of the vehicle which had the Taj Mahal painted on its white exterior.
"The (probe) committee will give a report on the cause of the accident and also suggest long-term measures to avoid such mishaps," government official Awanish Awasthi said.
The Yamuna expressway was intended to be a symbol of modernity when it was opened, speeding up journey times from Delhi to the key region. But authorities admit there are key safety concerns.
In 2017 alone 763 crashes were reported on the Yamuna expressway, which resulted in 145 deaths, authorities told the Save Life Foundation, a non-profit group that works on road safety.
Fatalities on Indian roads are often blamed on speeding and drink-driving but experts say many highways suffer from design flaws, making rides a daily risk.
India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh called the latest accident "heart wrenching" and expressed his condolences to grieving families.