Seventeen killed as train carrying soldiers plunges into Pakistan canal in 'suspected sabotage'
about 5 hours ago
PHOTO: The train was packed with hundreds of soldiers and their families. (Reuters)
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Seventeen people, including a senior army officer, have been killed after a train carrying hundreds of Pakistani soldiers and their families plunged into a canal in what the army suspects was sabotage, officials say.
The accident occurred near the eastern town of Wazirabad in the country's most populous province Punjab as it headed to the garrison town of Kharian.
A statement issued by the military said four carriages derailed as the train crossed Chanawan Bridge.
"Total bodies recovered till now (are) 17. Search (still) continues," Major General Asim Bajwa, the army's main spokesman, said in a message posted on his Twitter account.
It is not yet clear why the bridge — a simple, single-track rail-only crossing passing just a few feet above the water of the canal — collapsed.
We suspect that this was an act of sabotage and the planks on the rail were tampered with.The crash happened as an army unit was being transported from southern Sindh province to northern Pakistan.
"There were around 300 passengers on board," minister for railways Khawaja Saad Rafiq said.
"It is too early to say about the reason for the mishap. Rescue work is underway."
More than 50 people were rescued, a military official said.
Television images of the scene showed several carriages partly submerged in the canal.
Act of sabotage suspected
Railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique hinted there may have been foul play involved, saying a heavier train had crossed the same bridge an hour earlier without a problem.
But a spokesman from Pakistan Railways said an investigation into the incident was still ongoing.
"We have submitted an initial report to the prime minister but the exact details will be ascertained after complete investigations," Rauf Tahir said.
"It's an unusual event. We are investigating the reason for this sudden collapse of the bridge."
The military is fighting a Taliban insurgency in several regions of the country's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan in the north-west.
A senior military official earlier said the army also suspected sabotage.
"We suspect that this was an act of sabotage and the planks on the rail were tampered with," the official said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The collapse also raises concerns about the safety of infrastructure.
Several TV channels reported that the bridge had been marked as "extremely dangerous".
Pakistan inherited thousands of kilometres of track and trains from the former colonial power, Britain, but the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and under-investment.
In May, a Pakistan military helicopter carrying diplomats to inspect a tourist project crashed, killing seven people, including the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines.