TWENTY-NINE PEOPLE died and 23 others were injured after a UP state transport bus travelling from Lucknow fell into a canal on the Yamuna Expressway, about 230 km from New Delhi, early Monday morning. Many of those killed are believed to have drowned in the canal, officials said.
The cause of the accident is yet to be ascertained, but officials suspect the driver allegedly fell asleep at the wheel. The Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) vehicle, registered at Awadh Bus Depot, had 54 people, including the driver and conductor, on board when the accident occurred after 4 am, they said.
Officials said most of the victims hailed from Lucknow while some belonged to Delhi, Ghaziabad and Gonda, among other places. The driver was among those killed.
“The Agra administration is providing all help possible to the families of the victims. The state government will bear medical expenses of the injured and cost of transportation of bodies to their respective hometowns. From primary information, it appears the driver fell asleep. Further probe will be conducted by a commission,” said Ravi Kumar, District Magistrate, Agra.
According to police and eyewitnesses, the accident occurred between 4.15 am and 4.30 am at 165 milestone on Yamuna Expressway. A call to the emergency number 100 was made at 4.38 am by which time local residents had gathered at the spot for rescue operations.
The AC bus, allegedly being driven at high speed, swivelled onto the divider, rammed a crash barrier, flipped mid-air and plunged into a canal approximately 60 metres below. One side of the bus was submerged in water approximately 15 feet deep, as the vehicle landed sideways.
“I was in my hut a few metres away when the bus crashed. I thought the bridge had collapsed, since the sound was so loud. I rushed across with a few others and immediately began to drag out people. The people on the side of the bus that was above the water were dragged out first. It was a horrible sight…I could see a man with limbs cut, and bodies of children,” said Ajab Singh, who lives close to the site.
According to Etmadpur police, a team of 70 officers rushed to the spot, along with two cranes to lift the bus. A team more of than 20 divers and officials of the State Disaster Response Force were also part of the rescue operation that lasted two hours.
Officials said the bus had to be cut in places to get victims and bodies out. Due to the impact of the crash, the vehicle’s fuel tank and parts of the engine were found strewn outside.
The conductor, Ashnesh Mishra (24), survived with a fracture on his left hand while the driver, Kripa Shankar Chaudhary (35), sustained fatal injuries. “The conductor got out of the bus on his own and begged us to not hit him since he thought we would hold him responsible. But we rushed to save the others,” said Ajab Singh.
Mishra claimed the bus had stopped 5 km prior to the accident at a toll plaza. “I was sitting behind the driver and felt the bus swerve out of control. The driver tried to steer it back. After the bus plunged into the water, I punched a window and broke it to crawl out,” said Mishra.
“I made my way up the path to the Expressway from the ditch where a security outpost had been set up. I told them to make a PCR call. I don’t remember much after that, I lost consciousness,” he said, adding that some passengers in the portion of the bus that was above the water were also trying to break their way out.
Chaudhary, the driver, had been with UPSRTC since 2005. “The bus is new and only 2-3 years old. There did not appear to be anything wrong with it. There have been no complaints against the driver, either. We are looking into what went wrong,” said a UPSRTC official.
According to officials, the bus left Alambagh Depot in Lucknow at around 10.30 pm and was to reach Anand Vihar in Delhi by 7 am.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences on Twitter. Officials said a probe has been ordered into the accident by a three-member panel, including the Transport Commissioner, IG Agra and Divisional Commissioner.
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