Relatives identified the bodies of all 21 passengers, including seven women, of the ill-fated Pollachi-bound private bus, who were charred to death in a fire that engulfed the vehicle after it capsized and fell into a roadside pit at Avalur near Kaveripakkam on the Chennai-Bangalore National Highway, about 40 km from here on Tuesday night.
Authorities revised the death toll to 21 on Wednesday after finding that the number of charred bodies recovered from the scene did not match with the list of passengers made available to them by the company that owns the bus. There were two survivors – Karthikairaja, a passenger, and Nagarajan, the bus driver.
Later, it turned out that while 23 passengers were booked to travel, one of them did not board the bus. With only 22 passengers travelling, apart from the two survivors, the authorities said only 21 passengers had died in the late night tragedy.
The lone surviving passenger was admitted to the Government Hospital, Kancheepuram, from where he was referred to a private hospital in Chennai. Driver Nagarajan is in police custody in Vellore.
On Wednesday, relatives of the deceased started making a beeline to the Government District Headquarters Hospital, Walajapet, from early morning. Relatives were able to identify the bodies only with the help of the jewellery worn by their kin or their partially burnt dress.
Heart-rending scenes were witnessed at the hospital as the relatives sobbed uncontrollably on seeing the bodies. Women were seen consoling one another. The police allowed relatives to get close to the bodies only after ascertaining the names of the deceased passengers they were looking for, and checking the names against the of the list of passengers provided by the bus company.
The accident occurred when the bus driver tried to overtake two lorries from the left. In the process, the front of the bus dashed against the rear of a lorry. On seeing this, the driver of the second lorry suddenly applied the brake, leading to its dashing against the rear right of the bus, resulting in the bus hitting the wall of a culvert and falling into a roadside pit. This led to an explosion in the diesel tank and caused a fire. Most passengers could not escape as the bus fell to its left, the side where the door is located. Being an air-conditioned coach, the right side windows were all fixed. Before they could break open the glass windows, the fire engulfed them. Karthikairaja (40) of Tirupur and Nagarajan, driver of Dasanayackanpatti in Salem district escaped by breaking open the glass windows.
Additional Director-General of Police(Law & Order) S. George on Wednesday said the driver of the omnibus was overspeeding.
He said special teams have been formed to investigate the case. Preliminary enquiry has revealed that there was no inflammable material stored in the bus, he said. “There were no other exits in the vehicle. We are examining the design of the omnibuses and steps will be taken to improve safety aspects,” he added.
Health Minister V.S. Vijay, Transport Minister V. Senthil Balaji, Backward Classes and Environment Minister T.K.M. Chinnayya, Additional Director-General of Police (Law and Order) George, Inspector-General of Police (North Zone), R.C. Kudawla, Vellore Range DIG of Police H.M. Jayaram and Vellore Collector S. Nagarajan were at the accident spot to supervise the relief operations on Tuesday night.
The following are the names of the deceased: Subramanian (29), Venkatesan (70), Divya alias Gnanamani (27), Naga Vijayakumar (49), Saraswathi (60), Sudha (25), Senthilkumar (25) and Sakthivel (31), all of Pollachi, Sunitha (32), w/o Karthikairaja (survivor) of Mogappair, Chennai, Selvaraj (30) of Kodambakkam, Chennai, Karthik Raja (26) of Chennai, Venkatesa Perumal (22) of Adyar, Chennai, Velusamy (37) of Chennai, Vijayalakshmi (55), Jebarani (23) and Vimal Arumugam (37) and her son Pranavaraj (10) of Udumalpet, Bharat Kumar Isabu (27) of Orissa (a CA student in Perambur, Chennai), Masana Karthi (28) of Madurai, Senthilnathan (25) of Kancheepuram and Veerayya (39) of Thanjavur. Of these, Vimal Arumugam and her son Pranavaraj, who were U.S. citizens had come on a holiday to their native place, Udumalpet.
Chief Minister Jayalalithaa condoled the death of the bus passengers and announced a solatium of Rs. one lakh to each of the families of the deceased. Those injured would get Rs. 50,000 each from the Chief Minister's Public Relief Fund. She made a statement to this effect in the Assembly.