A private bus carrying over 70 passengers plunged into a river killing 42 people, in Himachal Pradesh on Wednesday.

According to IANS, the bus plying on Kullu-Mandi National Highway fell into the Beas River owing to the negligence of the bus driver who was talking on his cellphone.

The driver had jumped off the bus before it fell into the river.  

Seventeen passengers have been rescued so far and search operations were being conducted in the banks of the river, said Sharab Neogi, Kullu Deputy Commissioner.

Eye witnesses said authorities were scrambling to rescue the survivors. Locals and private rafters started rescue operations long before authorities reached the spot.

Local rafters were called in to help out in to pull out the bodies out of the river and rescue those trapped. The rafters performed the task by tying themselves to a rope to avoid being pulled away by the strong currents.

The overcrowded bus mostly had passengers travelling to the remote town of Ani from Kullu for the annual fair. The incident happened near the Jhiri area which is located 20 kilometres from Kullu district and 250 kilometres from Shimla. The accident site is located in an area popular for white water rafting activities.

The stretch along the Kullu-Mandi National Highway has some deep gorges but the area around Jhiri has no such obstacle. Authorities registered the accident as a case of careless driving.