Unaware of their impending doom, the victims of the suspension bridge collapse in India smiled and joked together as the structure swayed from side to side.
Within seconds, their laughter was quickly replaced by horrified screams as they plunged to their deaths.
The disaster marks one of the deadliest accidents in India in the past 10 years, with at least 141 killed after the colonial-era pedestrian bridge over the Macchu River in Morbi snapped on Sunday.
Local police have launched a criminal investigation into the tragedy after it emerged that the walkway, which had been under renovation for seven months, had reopened to the public on Wednesday without a safety certificate.
Nine people had been arrested in connection with the collapse of the bridge as of Monday afternoon, all of whom were associated with a company tasked with maintaining the bridge.
They are being investigated for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, senior police officer Ashok Kumar Yadav said in a statement.
Horrifying footage from just before the collapse shows a group of young Diwali revellers taking photos and smiling as the green cables above them begin to sway.
Then, suddenly, the cables snap, the narrow walkway buckles, and the unsuspecting victims are hurled 30ft to their deaths.
Around 35 of those killed were younger than 14, as desperate families waited in vain for word of their loved ones.
Unaware of their impending doom, the victims of the suspension bridge collapse in India smiled and joked together as the structure swayed from side to side
Within seconds, their laughter was quickly replaced by horrified screams as they plunged to their deaths
Soldiers carry the body of a victim after a suspension bridge collapsed in Morbi town in the western state of Gujarat, India, on Monday
Indian rescue personnel conduct search operations after a bridge across the river Machchhu collapsed in Morbi in the early hours of Monday morning
The relatives of a victim who died after the cable bridge collapse are overcome with emotion on Monday
The bridge – known as Julto pul – is a popular tourist attraction in the Morbi area of Gujarat, western India
The bridge had been packed with hundreds of revellers celebrating the Diwali and Chhath Puja festivals before it collapsed.
Hundreds were plunged into the water below near the town of Morbi while dozens more were left clinging onto the bridge’s twisted wreck to await rescue.
Video shows people holding onto the bridge as emergency services struggled to rescue them.
‘People were hanging from the bridge after the accident, but they slipped and fell into the river when it collapsed,’ said Raju, an eyewitness who gave only one name.
‘I could not sleep the entire night as I had helped in the rescue operation. I brought a lot of children to the hospital.’
Another witness who worked all night on the rescue efforts said: ‘I saw the bridge collapse before my eyes.
‘It was traumatic when a woman showed me a photo of her daughter and asked if I had rescued her. I could not tell her that her daughter had died.’
One local MP, Kalyanji Kundariya, told media he had lost 12 family members in the accident, including five children.
Some of those who plunged into the water clambered up the broken structure to try to make their way to the river banks, while others swam to safety.
Prateek Vasava, who swam to the river bank after falling from the bridge, told 24 Hours Gujarati-language news channel that he witnessed several children drop into the river.
‘I wanted to pull some of them along with me but they had drowned or got swept away,’ he said.
The bridge had collapsed in just a few seconds, he said.
‘Many children were enjoying holidays for Diwali and they came here as tourists.
‘All of them fell one on top of another. The bridge collapsed due to overloading,’ said one witness, who gave his name as Sukram.
Friends and relatives anxiously wait for news after a bridge collapsed in northern India killing at least 120 people
Some people managed to hold onto the end of the bridge and were left hanging in the air awaiting rescue
The Indian Coastguard (left) led the search and rescue efforts on the water, but dozens of ordinary citizens joined the efforts
The bridge was recently closed for six months while it underwent a refurbishment, and only reopened a week ago
Hundreds of people have anxiously lined the riverbank to watch rescue efforts as they await news of friends and loved ones
A large emergency response was deployed to the chaotic scene as victims were rushed to hospital
Most Indians cannot swim and another Morbi resident, Ranjanbhai Patel, said he helped pull out those who had been able to reach the banks.
Emergency workers flooded to the scene, including 50 navy personnel and 30 air force officials, along with a national disaster management team to trace missing people, the government said in a statement.
A five-member team specialising in infrastructure was appointed to conduct an investigation into the disaster.
P. Dekavadiya, the head of police in Morbi, told AFP that more than 130 survivors had been rescued.
Police registered a criminal case against unnamed persons responsible for the renovation, maintenance, and management of the bridge. The government has formed a five-member team to investigate the disaster.
The bridge, known as the Julto pul, is a 140-year-old structure that had recently been refurbished and was reopened to the public last week after seven months of work.
Gujarat-based electrical appliances maker Oreva group, known for its Ajanta clocks, had been in charge of maintaining the bridge for 15 years, said Sandeepsinh Zala, the chief officer of Morbi municipality.
‘They did not give us any information that they were reopening the bridge,’ Zala said. ‘We have not issued any fitness certificate to them.’
Rescuers have been pictured using heavy equipment such as cranes to help rescue those trapped in the waters below
The suspension bridge was extremely busy in the minutes before the collapse, with as many as 150 people walking over the river
Officials say the cause of the collapse could have been overcrowding, but have ordered a team to investigate
Jayrajsinh Jadeja, a local lawmaker from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, blamed Oreva for selling tickets without restrictions and said overcrowding led to the bridge collapse.
The bridge was earlier maintained by the local municipality, which limited the number of people on the bridge at one time to 20, he said.
An Oreva spokesperson did not answer calls and text messages from Reuters.
The Indian Express newspaper quoted an Oreva spokesperson as saying: ‘While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other.’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the former chief minister of Gujarat, expressed his condolences to the victims’ families.
‘In this hour of grief, the government is with the bereaved families in every manner,’ he said. ‘The Gujarat government is carrying out relief and rescue operations since yesterday. The central government too is extending all help to the state government.’
The pedestrian bridge is 4.1 ft wide and spans 233 metres connecting the Darbargadh Palace heritage hotel and the town. It was built in 1877 when India was a British colony.
Chief Minister of Gujarat, Bhupendra Patel tweeted: ‘I express my condolences to the families of the citizens who lost their lives in the tragedy of Morbi.
‘The state government will provide Rs 4 lakh to the family of each deceased and Rs 50,000 to the injured.’
‘The news of the accident due to the breakdown of the cable bridge on the Machhu river in Morbi, Gujarat is very sad.
‘Taking quick cognizance of the incident, the Gujarat government and administration have given necessary guidelines for relief and rescue. I wish the injured a speedy recovery.’
Opposition politicians said the disaster exposed the lack of oversight of infrastructure in the country.
‘Not just extremely sad on bridge collapse in Morbi but also very angry. Because it was a tragedy in waiting,’ Gurdeep Singh Sappal, a member of the Congress party, wrote on Twitter. ‘For some time now, bridge collapse, roads caving-in, dams breaching are happening quite often.’
The incident comes ahead of elections in Gujarat, which are expected to be held by the year-end with the current term of the Modi’s ruling party’s term ending in February, 2023.
The bridge was first opened in 1879 and connects the Mahaprabhuji region to Samakantha.
The bridge is a popular attraction for tourists and locals, and was especially busy during this festive season, during which many celebrate Diwali and Chhath Puja.
It had previously suffered significant damage following the 2001 Gujarat earthquake.