x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Speeding Indian bus crashes, killing 45 in inferno

Bus explodes in a ball of flames after crashing into the central reservation on a southern Indian road.

Officials say the bus driver had been driving all night immediately before the crash, and may have fallen asleep at the wheel. Reuters
Officials say the bus driver had been driving all night immediately before the crash, and may have fallen asleep at the wheel. Reuters

HYDERABAD // A speeding bus exploded in a ball of flames after crashing into the central reservation on a southern Indian road on Wednesday, killing 45 passengers.

Only five people on the bus escaped the inferno, including the driver and the cleaner who broke windows and fled before the fuel tank blew up, police said.

“The total number of charred bodies found is 45, including that of a small child,” said L Sarman, a senior district official.

“The driver was speeding at about 120 to 130 kilometres an hour. He was driving all night, it seems he may have fallen asleep at the wheel,” said Mr Sarman.

Fatalities were high, even by the standards of India where bus crashes are common, particularly on the treacherous Himalayan roads.

Police said the driver and cleaner had tried to flee the scene of the accident, which occurred early yesterday morning between Bangalore and Hyderabad. They “tried to run, but the police caught them”, a police spokesman said.

Relatives of the victims broke down in tears outside the office of the bus operator in Hyderabad, 140km from the crash site.

Police arrived later to question the owners of Jabbar Travels, which offers bus services to cities across the south of India. Many of the victims were charred beyond recognition.

Television pictures showed flames leaping out of the vehicle, which was gutted by the time firefighters arrived.

The survivors were being treated in a nearby hospital in Wanaparthy.

The Times of India reported that at least five of the victims were software engineers who were travelling home to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival this weekend. Both Hyderabad and Bangalore are centres of India’s booming IT industry.

Diwali is one of India’s biggest festivals, with tens of millions of migrants heading back home to their families for the festivities.

Around 140,000 people died in road accidents in India last year, according to the government’s national crime records bureau – about 16 fatalities an hour.

Bad roads, speeding vehicles and poor driving are among the contributing factors.

Commercial drivers are largely unregulated, meaning many work long hours overnight which raises the danger of them falling asleep at the wheel, campaigners say.

In May at least 33 people died when an overcrowded bus skidded off a road into a fast-flowing river in Himachal Pradesh state.

At least 30 were killed earlier this month in Assam state when a heavy goods lorry careered on to the wrong side of the road and smashed head-on into two packed vehicles.

The World Health Organisation’s global status report on road safety 2013 found that eight per cent of India’s road-user deaths were bus drivers or passengers, while 32 per cent were drivers of motorbikes or three-wheelers.

* Agence France-Presse