Jatinder Shukla, Bangalore-based rally driver passed away at the age of 34 after his Gypsy plunged down a steep cliff on the return leg of the third Jammu & Kashmir Mughal Rally on Sunday evening. His navigator Ashish Mahajan, critically injured, has been admitted at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Srinagar.
On Sunday, the duo, competing in the Enduro category, kick-started the second day from Jammu at around 5.00 am and were well placed along the route until they missed a sharp hair-pin bend on the Sinthan pass in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, at approximately 7.45 pm, and went straight down a near-10,000 feet cliff, officials said.
Marshals and CRPF personnel rushed to rescue the drivers and managed to bring both of them onto the track. The medical crew stationed at the site pronounced Shukla dead on the spot and orivuded treatment to Mahajan before moving the unconscious navigator to the hospital.
The Enduro category, which is open to amateurs, is safer in comparison to the Xtreme category as the drivers do not need to speed through the course, instead they need to maintain a designated speed as defined by the organisers. However, the tedious drive covering more than 600 kilometres requires drivers to focus for around 20 hours, and that may have played a part in the incident.
“The long drive took its toll for sure. Fatigue seems to have played an important factor in the incident but these kind of things could have been avoided if it was planned better,” said one of the drivers who took part in the rally.
Several incidents had also been reported on day one, but none more dramatic than the one Sunny Sidhu and Karnataka’s P V S Murthy had to endure. The duo lost control of the car as they were hurtling down a steep cliff, but luckily they were out of harm’s way as there were mountain walls on either sides.
Indian National Rally Championship champion Gaurav Gill, who had raised concerns about the rally even before the start, said: “I can’t believe this has happened. I am shocked.”
Organisers of the rally, the Himalayan Motorsports Association, have flown in members of both the families to Srinagar, while the flag-in and the prize distribution ceremonies have been cancelled. Shukla hailed from Haryana, worked as a deputy manager at Aircel in Bangalore.
(Updated – Ashish Mahajan, who was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital following the crash on Sunday, died on Tuesday morning, an official of the disaster management cell said.)
‘May God give the strength to both the family in this tough times. RIP Jatinder Shukla & Ashish Mahajan.’