Calcutta, Jan. 29: As the Howrah morgue was almost cleared of the charred bodies of victims of yesterday’s accident, investigators probing the head-on collision were unanimous about one thing: the decision of the bus driver to move on with the blazing vehicle in search of an elusive pond had proved fatal for most of the 37 victims.
The speeding bus not only fanned the flames but also robbed the passengers trapped inside of a chance to make a quick escape.
Investigators said the blazing bus travelled “anywhere between three and four minutes” after being hit by the van and exploding into flames. This “crucial” time would have been enough for many of the passengers to jump to safety had the driver brought it to a halt.
“It was an error of judgement that proved fatal for many passengers,” Howrah superintendent of police Rajesh Kumar said today. “In those few minutes, the metal expanded in the heat and jammed the doors. Besides, most of the passengers were in flames by the time the bus settled by the side of the ditch.”
The bus was carrying passengers mainly from Orissa’s Baripada, many of whom were cloth merchants making their routine journey to Howrah’s famous weekly wholesale market, Mangla haat.
The van against which the bus crashed was carrying paints, lacquer and other inflammable material that helped the fire to spread rapidly.
Forensic director N. Nag said preliminary investigations had revealed that the diesel tank of the van had burst into flames after hitting the bus. This had ignited the chemicals and paints it was carrying, which in turn had spilled onto the bus. “This is why the bus quickly caught fire,” Nag said.
The vice-chairman of the State Transport Authority, Lakshman Bhattacharya, said the van had no valid permit to carry the chemicals. “The owner of the van has been traced and the police informed about it. He should be picked up soon.”
Two other bus accidents took place today within a few km of the site of yesterday’s tragedy.