More than 19 people have been killed after a train carrying army officials derailed and plunged into a canal due to a bridge collapse near Wazirabad in Punjab province, the Pakistan military said on Friday.
The train, carrying around 300 passengers on board, derailed on Thursday while passing over the Chanawan canal near Pakistani city of Gujranwala, Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafiq told Reuters.
Helicopters and divers from the military and civil authorities flew to the scene shortly after the incident. Eighty passengers, including five who were wounded, were retrieved and transmitted to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Gujranwala, according to an army official.
Major General Asim Bajwa tweeted on Friday that more than 17 bodies had been pulled out of the water as a result of ongoing search and rescue operations.
Pakistan military's media wing Inter-Services Public Relations reported that the unit commander, his wife and daughter were among the casualties.
Although many Pakistani TV channels reported that the bridge is “extremely dangerous” due to its age - as it was built in the British colonial era over 100 years ago - several officials suspected that sabotage may have been involved in the incident.
"It seems like some other hand must be involved because derailment does not happen like this," Saad Rafiq told local media, adding that a complete report about the accident would be released in 72 hours.
Director General Public Relations of Pakistan Railways (PR) Abdul Rauf Tahir also told a TV channel that all bridges were inspected, including the collapsed bridge on January, adding that the bridge was in fine condition and strong enough to carry the train.
Tahir also said that 90 minutes before the accident, another train crossed the same railway bridge safely.
Train accidents commonly occur in Pakistan because of poor conditions of the tracks and bridges and also attacks from the small separatist groups who are active in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan.
In 2014, a bomb attack on a passenger train claimed more than 13 lives and injured dozens of people in the Southwestern Baluchistan state of Pakistan.