A bloodied school uniform flutters in the wind. A Class 3 Science textbook lies beside green and pink lunch box bags. Near the rail tracks is an intact slate with “A, B” and “1, 2” written on it. A brown “Winne the Pooh” schoolbag with bloodstains on it lies a few feet away.
One moment they were a bunch of happy children going to school, and the next moment they were screaming in horror as the Nanded passenger train slammed into their school bus at an unmanned crossing near Musaipet in Veldhurti mandal of Medak district, 70 kms from Hyderabad, at 8:30 am on Thursday.
Thirteen children died on the spot and two died later in hospital, succumbing to head and chest injuries and multiple fractures. The school bus driver, K Bhikshapati, and his helper also died in the accident. Twenty-one students are in critical condition at Yashoda Hospital in Secunderabad and R R Hospital at Kompally.
Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister N Narasimha said the bus driver was new to this particular route. “We have been told by the school authorities that the driver was given this route only this morning. He was new to this route and was probably crossing the rail tracks for the first time,’’ he said.
A tractor driver who was at the spot, waiting for the train to pass, told the police that the bus driver did not stop at the crossing to check if a train was coming. He said although the train driver tried to stop the train when he saw the bus, it ploughed into the bus, almost cutting it into two. The train dragged the bus for nearly a kilometre before coming to a stop.
As the bus rolled over several times from the impact of the collision, many children were thrown under the train and died immediately.
The children, aged between 5-10 years, were on their way to Kakatiya Techno School at Viveknagar in Tooparan. They had been picked up from Islampur area of Medak district. The victims included siblings Varun and Swati, Chintala Chaitanya and Chintala Divya.
The villagers were first to reach the spot, rescuing the surviving children and pulled out the dead. Before officials arrived, distraught parents had pulled out the mangled remains of their children from the wreckage. Villagers said fire department personnel and the police arrived almost half-an-hour later.
Blaming the driver, Minister T Harish Rao said, “I think, the driver threw all caution to the wind and thought that he could cross the tracks at the unmanned level crossing before the train. He may have misjudged the speed and distance of the train, which was travelling a good speed. It is a big tragedy.
Expressing shock over the incident, Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao announced Rs 5 lakh ex gratia to each victim’s family. “The government will bear all the hospital and medical expenditure of the injured students,’’ he said.