Bus turns gas chamber without escape route

Bus turns gas chamber without escape route

It was all over in a few minutes and the intensity of the tragedy was such that by the time the authorities reached the spot, all that remained were lumps of flesh stuck between the seats.

The heat from the bus was so intense that onlookers stood at a distance on the median, till the fire subsided. It was only later that they called an ambulance. 

Hanumanthu, who runs a dhaba near Palem, was one of the first to reach the accident spot. He said he heard a big bang when the bus hit the concrete culvert and stopped.“Probably, the steel railing of the culvert ripped off the fuel tank. Even as onlookers could reach the bus, it was in flames," Hanumanthu recalls. 

Farmers from nearby villages, particularly Addakkal, say that the driver of a taxi moving behind the bus noticed fire under the bus and tried to alert the driver. But the latter was in shock.“By the time the driver noticed the flames, it was too late. The driver and cleaner, instead of helping the passengers, jumped out of the driver’s window,” Palmakula Srinivas, a farmer, said.

The driver is said to have told investigators that as the vehicle approached Palem, the front tyre burst and he lost control of the speeding vehicle.It rammed the culvert due to which the diesel tank was damaged and oil spilled out. The friction caused by the vehicle rubbing against the culvert triggered sparks. This and the oil spilling out led to the fire that engulfed the vehicle. 

“There was a sudden jerk and I fell to my left. The bus stopped suddenly. I thought it was an accident and heaved a sigh of relief. Even before I could stand up, there were flames everywhere. I was among the few passengers who reached the front door.

 It was locked, but someone from outside broke it. I jumped on to the road with flames all over my body and lost consciousness,” said Yogesh, a passenger who suffered more than 50 per cent burns. 

The fibre glass of the bus body, rubber mats and sponge seats literally added fuel to the fire. This gave no scope for the passengers, who were fast asleep, to look for ways to escape.Some passengers rushed to the rear part of the bus, indicating that the flames started in the front and spread backwards. But, they could not succeed in creating an opening due to the exhaustion caused by shortage of oxygen and pungent fumes from the burning air-conditioners.

D K Aruna, Andhra Pradesh Minister for Information and Public Relations, who hails from the district, District Collector Girija Shankar, the DIG, the SP and other senior officials reached the spot on receiving news about the accident. Authorities of Volvo in Hyderabad said they were awaiting the results of a “full investigation.”

Sohanjeet Randhawa, head of marketing, Volvo Buses India, said the “tragic accident” was being “studied”. 

“Our team has already landed at the spot and we are in the process of gathering information,” he said, adding that certainly the findings would have a bearing on new bus designs. The investigations may take one or two weeks, he said.

Another Volvo official, on the condition of anonymity, said that the fuel tanks of Volvo buses are made of a special material which should not burst due to a collision. The fuel tank is strong enough to bear the impact of a collision. At the most, it can develop cracks, but cannot burst due to the fuel inside or a collision.

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