NEW DLHI (AFP): At least 25 people were killed and eight others injured in western India when a bus crashed and caught fire on an expressway early Saturday.
The bus was travelling to the city of Pune when it hit a pole and overturned after midnight, causing its diesel tank to catch fire, senior police officer Baburao Mahamuni told AFP.
“There were about 30 to 35 people in the bus. Twenty-five people have died and eight others are injured,” he said.
The injured have been admitted to a hospital near the site of the crash in Maharashtra state, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of India’s financial capital Mumbai.
The driver and conductor of the bus was taken into custody for questioning, state rural development minister Girish Mahajan told reporters.
“The driver is saying the tyre of the bus burst, after which it hit a pole. But it seems he had dozed off; we will have to see what actually happened,” he said.
Mahajan added that the bodies had been charred beyond recognition and forensic teams were on their way to help in identification.
One of the survivors of the accident said he got out of the burning vehicle via a window.
“The passenger seated next to me and I managed to escape by breaking the rear window,” he told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.
“But not everyone could do it.”
A witness to the crash told PTI he unsuccessfully tried to help rescue passengers stuck inside the burning bus.
“We saw people getting burnt alive,” he said. “The fire was so intense that we could not do anything.”
- Dangerous roads –
Police said they had launched an inquiry into the crash.
“The priority at this moment is to identify the bodies and hand them over to their family members,” local media quoted police superintendent Sunil Kadasane as saying.
Images published in local media showed the bus engulfed in flames and later the charred remains of the vehicle overturned on the highway.
Three children were among the dead, a police officer told reporters.
“Deeply saddened by the devastating bus mishap in Buldhana,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives. May the injured recover soon.”
Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde said he felt “deep grief” over the accident and pledged compensation of 500,000 rupees ($6,100) to the families of those killed.
Accidents are common on India’s vast network of roads, which are poorly maintained and notoriously dangerous.
The country accounts for 11 percent of the global road death toll despite having just one percent of the world’s vehicles, according to a World Bank report released in 2021.
The same report estimated 150,000 car crash fatalities in India annually, or one every four minutes.
It added that road crashes cost the Indian economy around $75 billion each year, with medical expenses and loss of income driving many accident survivors into poverty.
In May, at least 21 people died when a bus veered off a bridge in India, reportedly after the driver fell asleep at the wheel.
And last October, at least 31 people were killed after a bus carrying wedding guests veered off the road and fell into a deep gorge in northern India.