updated 1/20/2006 3:58:09 AM ET 2006-01-20T08:58:09

A crowded bus veered off a steep mountain road in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday, killing at least 53 people, police said.

The bus was negotiating a steep curve near the town of Sainganji when it swerved off the road and fell 400 feet into a gorge, said J.P. Singh, a local police superintendent.

Villagers and police were helping to pull survivors from the wreckage of the bus, which had around 70 people on board, Singh said. The bus only had seats for 50 people.

Singh said at least 15 survivors were hospitalized in critical condition.

Road accidents claim thousands of lives every year in India, and most are blamed on reckless driving, aging vehicles and poor roads. Many passenger buses in far-flung areas are rickety and poorly maintained, and are often overcrowded.

Sainganji is northwest of Jammu, the winter capital of India’s portion of Kashmir.

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