Around 24 engineering students from Hyderabad are feared to have been washed away this evening in River Beas near Thalot on Manali-Kiratpur Highway, 40 Km from Mandi.
The sightseeing trip to Himachal Pradesh turned tragic for the tourists when the students, including some girls who were taking photographs at the bank of the river, were swept away by gushing waters of Beas as discharge of water suddenly increased following its release from the reservoir of 126 MW Larji hydropower project.
According to information available with authorities in Shimla tonight, 18 boys and six girls are feared to have drowned.
The discharge of water increased suddenly and caught everyone unawares as the Project authorities released the water apparently without any warning.
Enraged people blocked the national highway after the incident.
Massive search operations have been launched to trace the missing students but there was no success due to darkness.
State officials said the chances of finding the missing students alive are dim.
The services of divers have been requisitioned as part of rescue efforts.
About 20 students, who did not go to the river bank, are safe but were in a state of panic.
Efforts were underway to get the details of missing students from them, S R Mardi, ADGP(CID) said.
People living along the two sides of the river bank downstream of the dam have been alerted to inform the police about any person sighted by them.
The incident has sent shock waves and parents and friends of the missing students are making frantic calls to know about their whereabouts.
Two teams of the National Disaster Response Force, which include deep water divers, have been rushed to help with rescue operations.
The NDRF teams, comprising 84 personnel, have been disptached following a directive from Home Minister Rajnath Singh, a Home Ministry official said tonight.
Singh said he was "deeply pained" by the tragedy.
"I have instructed authorities to dispatch a rescue team for immediate action and save precious lives...," he said in a tweet.
"I am deeply pained over the tragic incident of engineering students getting drowned...," he said.
The students belonged to BNR Engineering College of Hyderabad and were travelling in two luxury buses.
It is said that the water level of Beas river suddenly swelled after water was released from the reservoir of a hydro power project.
The project is situated some 4 kms from the site of the incident.
The administration issued a red alert immediately after receiving information of the incident and rescue teams along with police, home guards, fire brigade and health department have been sent to the site, an official said.