The bus driver, whose father is the owner of the bus, has been arrested by police and booked for the offence of culpable homicide. The state government has ordered a magisterial inquiry.
The incident occurred around 12.20pm on Saturday. “We have fished out six bodies. Four of them are of school-going children,” said DIG Ravindra Yadav.
Yadav said that during preliminary investigations, driver Rajesh Chandrakant Naik, 26, told police that the brakes of the bus failed and he therefore lost control. An eyewitness, Divyang Kashikar, 29, from Saligao, who was at the ferry point waiting for the 12.40pm ferry to go to Calvim, said, “I saw the bus coming down the slope towards the ferry point. Usually, the bus stops at the ferry wharf, passengers get off, and the bus reverses to the road. This time the bus came straight down, the driver failed to stop the bus and it slipped into the river.”
Rescue operations were initiated soon after the mishap. By 1pm, coastal security boats reached the spot. Marine commandos along with locals jumped into the river to try to save the passengers.
The children fished out of the bus were identified as Priyal Salgaonkar, 10; sisters Dyna Dias, 8, and Elvina Dias, 11; and Nagle Gracias, 11. All were students of St Thomas Girls High School, Aldona, and were residents of Calvim.
The other bodies retrieved were identified as Josephine Dias, 58, from Calvim and Dayanand Hoble, 55, of Mayem, Bicholim in North Goa. Police said that one more woman was in the bus and is yet to be traced. Authorities took almost one-and-half hour to fish out the bus.
“We stopped rescue operations after sunset. They will resume on Sunday morning as we are told that one more woman was in the bus,” said SP (coastal security) Allan de Sa.
The state government cancelled the Carnival parade at Panaji on Saturday afternoon following the incident. Chief minister Digambar Kamat said that the state government will provide an interim relief of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of the victims.