The driver's attempt to overtake a fuel tanker on the wrong side proved fatal for him and six passengers in Chithode in Erode district on Sunday.

The bus hit the tanker from behind. In the impact, the aviation turbine fuel from the tanker spilled out on the bus setting it afire immediately and leading to the death of seven persons including the bus driver.

“The driver of our private sleeper coach tried to overtake the tanker on the left and at the same time, the driver of tanker too turned left to give way for the bus. This resulted in the accident and led to the loss of seven lives,” recalls B. Rangarajan, a Chartered accountant who was travelling in the bus from Bangalore to Coimbatore and managed to escape without any injuries.

“I woke up after hearing a loud thud. I got up from my berth and rushed to the driver's cabin to see him stuck between the wheels and his seat. Then I saw fuel spilling out from the tanker and fire engulfing the front portion of the bus quickly. I ran back shouting at the co-passengers to wake up and get out of the bus immediately,” narrates A. Ambrose Jayaseelan, a sales engineer returning home after attending an office meeting in Bangalore.

Rangarajan, Ambrose and a few passengers started looking for an emergency exit. “There was panic among the passengers as everyone was trying to get out of the bus. The fire was engulfing the bus quickly and a thick black smoke enveloped the coach. Somehow, a few of us managed to break open a few windows and jumped out of the bus,” recalls Vivek Seetharaman, a software engineer.

It was the presence of mind of Maheswaran and his friend Bharath, who noticed the hammer near the emergency exit window while boarding the bus, that saved many a lives in the bus. “We noticed the emergency exit and quickly broke the window with the hammer immediately after the accident,” Maheswaran says.

S. Selvakumar and Paranthaman, members of the anti-robbery team of the district police, were patrolling on the National Highways when they heard the news about the accident from a lorry driver. They rushed to the spot and found the passengers frantically trying to get out of the bus. “We broke open two more windows and pulled four or five passengers. We alerted the 108 ambulance service and helped the injured to go to hospital,” he said.

R. Shanmugam, whose house located near the accident spot, rushed to the spot after seeing the bus in flames and helped the injured to get into the ambulance. “Two women and three men jumped out of the windows at the front portion and landed right into the burning fuel on the road. The women were burnt alive, while the men received serious burns. It was a harrowing experience for me,” he said.

The driver of the bus could have averted the accident if he waited for a few more minutes to overtake the tanker on the right side, Superintendent of Police S. Panneer Selvam said. Later he appreciated the police personnel and fire fighters for their quick response.

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