Bangtok: Sixteen Indian Army personnel including three Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) were killed in a road accident when the vehicle they were travelling in fell into a gorge while negotiating a sharp turn at Zema in North Sikkim, the Army said.
It said four injured soldiers have been air evacuated.
The bodies of the deceased will be transported to their respective native places by air and road on Saturday, a defence spokesperson said in Guwahati.
Wreath laying on the mortal remains of the 16 Army personnel who died in the tragic accident at Zema in North Sikkim will be held at Bagdogra airport on Saturday, the Army said.
“In a tragic road accident, involving an Army truck on December 23 at Zema in North Sikkim, 16 bravehearts of the Indian Army have lost their lives,” the Army said in the statement.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed grief at the death of the Army personnel.
Quoting Modi, the PMO tweeted, “Pained by the loss of lives of our brave army personnel due to a road mishap in Sikkim. Condolences to the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon.”
The Army said the truck was part of a three-vehicle convoy that moved from Chatten in the morning towards Thangu.
“Enroute at Zema, the vehicle skidded down a steep slope while negotiating a sharp turn. A rescue mission was immediately launched, and four injured soldiers have been air evacuated,” the Army said.
“Unfortunately, three Junior Commissioned Officers and 13 soldiers succumbed to the injuries sustained in the accident. Indian Army stands firm with the bereaved families, at this hour of loss.” it said.
A defence spokesperson said later that mortal remains of the deceased will be sent to their homes from Bagdogra airport in West Bengal on Saturday.
“Wreath laying will be done at Bagdogra Airport Technical area tentatively between 12.30 to 2 pm tomorrow,” he said.
Bodies of 13 personnel will be flown to airports nearest to their home towns, while three will be sent through road route, the spokesperson said.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said he is “deeply pained” over the loss of lives of the personnel.
“The nation is deeply grateful for their service and commitment. My condolences to the bereaved families. Praying for the speedy recovery of those who are injured,” he said in a tweet.
In a tweet, the Army said Chief of Army Staff Gen Manoj Pande and all ranks of the force expressed heartfelt condolences to the families of the ‘bravehearts’ who lost their lives in the accident.
“General Manoj Pande #COAS and All Ranks of #IndianArmy express heartfelt condolences to the families of the #Bravehearts who lost their lives in a tragic & unfortunate road accident in #Sikkim and wish speedy recovery to the injured,” it said.
Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang also expressed deep grief and wrote on Twitter, “It is very unfortunate that 16 of our bravehearts lost their lives in a tragic accident at Zema. My deepest condolence to the bereaved families in this hour of grief.”
“Similarly, I pray for the speedy recovery of 4 wounded personnel who are currently receiving medical treatment,” he added.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also condoled the death of the soldiers, and prayed for speedy recovery of the injured.
“I am deeply saddened by the unfortunate road accident in North Sikkim, claiming the lives of 16 bravehearts of the Indian Army. Heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families.
May God give them strength to bear the irreparable loss. Praying for speedy recovery of the injured,” Banerjee said in a tweet.
The deceased soldiers are Naib Subedar Chandan Kumar Mishra and Naib Subedar Omkar Singh of 285 Medical regiment, L/Havildar Gopinath Makur, Sepoy Sukha Ram, Havildar Charan Singh and Naik Ravinder Singh Thapa of 26 Mechanised Infantry, the Army said.
From the 221 Field Regiment, Naik Vaisakh S and Naik Pramod Singh were among the deceased, while from the 25 Grenadiers, four soldiers who perished in the accident are L/Naik Bhupendra Singh, Naik Shyam Singh Yadav, Naik Lokesh Kumar and Grenadier Vikas Kumar.
Subedar Guman Singh and L/Havilder Arvind Singh from 8 Rajasthan Rifles, L/Naik Sombir Singh of 113 Engineer Regiment and L/Naik Manoj Kumar of 1871 Field Regiment also were among the soldiers who died in the accident, the Army said.