The private bus that was involved in an accident which claimed the lives of 21 passengers on June 7 had several emergency exits about which the victims were probably not aware.

Almost all the lower berth window glasses had a mechanism to slide to exit in the event of exigency. Apparently, the passengers had no knowledge of the facility, and the lone survivor had to break open a window and escape, police sources said.

Investigation into the accident involving a private bus bound for Pollachi shortly before midnight at Avalur near Kaveripakam has thrown up several issues, which law enforcing agencies are hoping to address to prevent recurrence of such incidents.

“Inspection of an omnibus of similar design revealed that the lower tier windows can be opened at the press of a lever. Since one passenger had time to break open a window and escape, a few others could have also jumped out had they known about the emergency exit,” a senior police officer said.

The bus, which hit a roadside culvert while trying to avoid colliding with a lorry, went up in flames after the fuel tank broke.

“The silencer muffler got damaged in the impact and triggered the fire. When the first rescue personnel (Highway Patrol Police) reached the scene within minutes, they heard passengers screaming for help...the bus was already engulfed in thick flames,” the officer said.

Forensic experts who inspected the charred remains of the bus could make out that the door separating the driver's cabin and the passengers got jammed after the bus fell off the road. The driver broke the windshield and escaped. The other survivor, Karthikeya Rajan, who escaped, tried to pull his wife out of the burning bus but in vain, the officer said.

“The passengers woke up to a rude shock and they had to battle suffocation caused by smoke amid chaos. The fire spread quickly leaving little time for them to break open the windows barehanded. There was no attendant or spare driver to help the passengers.”

A special team studying the circumstances that led to the accident is expected to recommend urgent corrective measures in the construction and design of omnibuses with regard to safety aspects, the sources said.