Diesel tank catches fire after rear of the bus hits a bridge

Seven persons, including five of a family, died and 30 were injured when a multi-axle Volvo bus operating between Bangalore and Mumbai rammed a road median on National Highway 4 near Haveri and caught fire.

Forty-two passengers, including two foreign nationals, managed to get out by breaking the glass windows. The toll could well have been higher had it not been for two youngsters who woke up sleeping passengers and smashed the window panes to help them escape. The driver jumped out and is absconding. The second driver, Nawaz, who was asleep in the trunk, was charred to death.

The bus belonging to National Travels, owned by a former Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) legislator B.Z. Zameer Ahmed, had left Bangalore around 8 p.m. The accident occurred sometime after 3 a.m. The bus is believed to have veered to the left and hit a bridge at Kunimellihalli village, off Bankapura Cross, rupturing the fuel tank in the process. The fuel spill presumably caused the fire. The accident bears a striking resemblance to the one at Mahbubnagar a fortnight ago in which 45 passengers were charred to death.

According to the passengers, the bus was filled with smoke and there was fire on all sides by the time it came to a halt. Some residents of Kunimellihalli village rushed out of their homes on hearing the noise, but could do little as the highway is located at a higher altitude. They saw a few passengers breaking windows and jumping out. Some reached the top through the ventilators and jumped down.

It took a while for the fire services personnel to arrive. But by then, the bus was totally gutted.

The injured passengers were initially rushed to the district hospital at Haveri. Five with severe burns were later shifted to the Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS) Hospital at Hubli. The condition of two of them is stated to be serious.

The identity of all but one of the deceased has been established. Later in the day, 26 passengers left for Mumbai in a bus arranged by the KSRTC. Ten returned to Bangalore.