Five persons from Shengottah in Tirunelveli district were charred to death when a van in which they were travelling went up in fire after it hit a roadside tree near Rajapalayam in the early morning on Tuesday.

The deceased were identified as S. Lakshmanan (35), S. Murugan (23), S. Gopal (24), G. Muthuraj (34) and N. Kalyani (33).

The hired van was proceeding to Rameswaram, carrying four painters from Vambalanthan Mukku in Shengottah.

The van driver Lakshmanan is suspected to have dozed off while driving the vehicle near Seithur on the Shengottah-Madurai highway resulting in the van drifting away from the road and eventually hit a tamarind tree at around 4.30 a.m.

“Within few seconds after it hit the tree, the entire van was in flames,” the Rajapalayam Deputy Superintendent of Police, D. Ashokan, said quoting an eye-witness. An employee of a petrol filling station had alerted the police and fire service.

In the impact of the collision, both the sliding doors of the van got stuck and three persons sitting in the rear seat were trapped. The driver too was stuck on his seat behind the wheel.

Only Murugan who was sitting on the front seat, managed to come out, but succumbed to the burns.

Mr. Ashokan said that van was driven on liquefied petroleum gas. Besides the painters, who were on their way to paint advertisements for a Kerala-based finance company, were carrying other chemicals like paint thinner that is suspected to have fuelled the fire.

Post-mortem of all the five bodies was carried out at the Government Hospital in Rajapalayam. The relatives of the deceased cremated the bodies at Rajapalayam, the DSP said.

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