Fire. That’s the first thing Zameer remembers seeing after he was woken up by a loud sound on the Mumbai-bound Volvo bus that was gutted in the accident at Haveri.

Zameer was sitting on seat no. 43 and was dozing off when he was jolted awake. A resident of Karwar, Zameer owns a garment business and had come to the city on Wednesday and was on his way back to Mumbai the same night. Zameer said passengers who were at the back had no way of escaping.

“I tried breaking a window with my foot, but it did not budge even while flames were spreading across the bus. One of the passengers managed to open roof hatch of the bus and some 10 of us at the back squeezed through it,” said Zameer, who fractured his leg in the process.

Zameer said the remaining passengers were still struggling to get out, and after some time, a few of them managed to break a window and escaped the flames. He also said that the two hammers, which were to be used to break the window, were kept right in the front behind the driver’s seat. For passengers at the back, there was no way to access it in an emergency, he said.

“The bus driver stopped about 50 m ahead on the road after the fire broke out. It was around 2.55 a.m. We asked the driver of an oncoming lorry to give us numbers of the nearest police station. I then placed a call to 108 for an ambulance at 3.07 a.m.,” he said.

“The driver fled as soon as the fire broke out. Insaniyat hi nahi hain inmein (no humanity at all in these people). If the staff don’t help the passengers, how will the other co-passengers come forward,” he asked.

He said a 13-year-old boy, Aftab, woke up his family, opened the emergency exit and helped them escape. “Aftab tried waking up the family of five who were eventually charred to death. The family from Mumbai comprised a couple with three children and were sitting three rows in front. Aftab tried waking up the woman, but in vain,” he said. He said that one of the drivers had driven from the city until Tumkur. “There, a spare driver took over the wheel. We suspect he was sleepy due to which he lost control,” he said.

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