Forty-five people were charred to death as a private luxury bus from
Bangalore in which they were travelling caught fire after hitting a culvert in
Mahabubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday morning.
The Hyderabad-bound Volvo vehicle had 50 passengers on board, apart from the driver and his assistant, against its capacity of 42. The accident occurred around 5 am when the driver lost control while overtaking a car and rammed into a culvert in Kothakota mandal, about 130 km from Hyderabad.
As the bus hit the culvert, its diesel tank exploded, causing the fire. Within seconds, the fire engulfed the bus, even as the passengers were asleep. Police said some passers-by tried in vain to rescue those trapped inside.
The driver and the cleaner had noticed the flames and managed to escape with five passengers sitting with them. The rest were burnt alive, with their charred remains making identification almost impossible.
While the five survivors were admitted to DRDO Apollo Hospital in Hyderabad, the police took the driver and the cleaner into custody for questioning.
“The diesel tank of the bus exploded into flames when the vehicle hit the culvert and within minutes the fire engulfed the entire bus, giving little chance for the passengers, who were asleep, to escape,” Mahabubnagar district Superintendent of Police (SP) D Nagendra Kumar said.
Some of the victims were IT professionals in Bangalore. They were returning to Hyderabad for Deepawali.
State Transport Minister Botsa Satyanarayana told reporters that the bus, registered in the name of Diwaker Roadlines in Anantapur, was given on lease to Jabbar Travels.
The police detained the manager of the Travels in Hyderabad and took him to Mahabubnagar for questioning since there were discrepancies in the list of passengers. Incidentally, Diwakar Travels is owned by some members of the family of veteran Congress legislator J C Diwakar Reddy.
The police said the list provided by the bus operator had only 29 names. Others are believed to have boarded en route, at Hindupur and Anantapur.
Locals said the bus was gutted within minutes. The first ambulance reached nearly an hour after the fire. One of the survivors said some people tried to jump out of the windows. As the door was locked, most of the passengers remained trapped inside.
Preliminary investigation suggested that the accident was caused due to over-speeding.
Policemen and forensic experts had a harrowing time retrieving the bodies and shifting them to a makeshift tent near the accident site on the Bangalore-Hyderabad highway. Doctors from the state-run Osmania General Hospital and Gandhi Hospital were rushed to the spot to conduct post-mortem.
Forensic experts from Hyderabad will conduct DNA tests to identify the bodies. The police could establish identities of only five passengers.
Mahabubnagar District Collector (DC) Girija Shankar and the SP supervised the rescue operations. “Identity of the victims will be determined through DNA analysis after collecting blood samples from the relatives. The remains will be handed over to the families only after the DNA tests,” Shankar said.
Meanwhile, heart-wrenching scenes were witnessed at the accident site as rescue workers recovered bodies of a mother and a child. In Hyderabad, relatives of the victims rushed to the office of the travel agent and demanded information, which they failed to provide.
Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy has ordered a probe into the accident. .
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also extended his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.