Forty-five passengers, including a baby girl, were charred to death and seven others suffered burns when a private luxury bus burst into flames near Palem village here today, police said.
"Charred bodies of 45 persons have been retrieved from the bus," Deputy Inspector General (Hyderabad Range) V Naveen Chand told PTI.
The accident occurred shortly after 5 AM when the diesel tank of the Hyderabad-bound bus from Bangalore hit the railing above a culvert near Palem, around 130 km from Hyderabad on Bangalore-Hyderabad National Highway when its driver was trying to overtake a car, police said.
The whole bus was engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes.
"The rear right side of the bus (having the diesel tank) hit the median of the road causing sparks. Within seconds the tank caught fire and burst even as flames spread all over the bus," they said.
Fifty-two persons, including 50 passengers, were travelling in the Volvo bus when the tragedy struck.
According to police, the bodies were charred beyond recognition. Four of the deceased were identified, they said, even as grieving relatives scoured bodies to find their dead.
Priyanka, daughter of a Judge of a special court handling cases under SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, also died in the incident, they said.
Five passengers, driver Feroze Pasha and cleaner Ayyaz, managed to escape with burn injuries and were undergoing treatment at different hospitals, another police officer said.
Mahbubnagar District Collector Girija Shankar and District SP D Nagendra Kumar, who were supervising the rescue operation said, "The identification of the deceased will be determined after conducting DNA tests and collecting blood samples of the relatives.
"The mortal remains will be handed over to the kin of the deceased after the DNA tests," the Collector said.
Initial reports had said that some software engineers were among the victims in the bus that had started from Bangalore at 11 PM last night.
The bus belonging to Jabbar Travels of Bangalore was bearing an Andhra Pradesh number plate.
When contacted C H Pratap, Deputy Transport Commissioner (Anantapur district) told PTI that the bus was registered in the name of Diwakar Road Lines in October 2010.
Subsequently, based on the request of the owners the department issued a No Objection Certificate to RTO Bangalore- II (West).
"The bus has All India Permit. We (Andhra Pradesh Government) received road tax up to December 31, 2013," Pratap said.
According to RTA officials in Hyderabad, the bus which has sitting capacity of 43+2 has been leased with Jabbar Travels of Bangalore.
The officials said the fitness certificate of the bus (issued by Karnataka RTA)is valid till October 6, 2014 while the permit validity is till November 2, 2016.
A team of doctors from Gandhi Hospital and Osmania General Hospital and forensic experts from Hyderabad rushed to the spot and had began post-mortem examinations.
The SP said the identification of the deceased will take two to three days as the DNA test result has to match with that of blood samples collected from the relatives.
"It seems the bus was travelling at a high speed when its fuel tank hit the roadside culvert and caught fire and burst. The passengers in the bus were burnt beyond recognition. The entire bus has been gutted," Wanaparthy DSP Srinivas Reddy said.
Police said they had collected the list of passengers from the private bus operator and found that the online booking list had names of 33 bus-passengers and other travellers boarded the bus later.
"According to preliminary investigation, some more passengers boarded the bus enroute at Hindupur and Anantapur. We have to examine the bus-driver for more information as he is responsible for the driving. A case under relevant sections of Motor Vehicle Act and IPC were booked in connection with the incident against the private travel operator," the police officer said.
A bus passenger, who survived the accident, and is undergoing treatment at a hospital, said, "All passengers were sleeping when the bus caught fire. Some of us tried to break open the window glass. However, we were unable to do so. I immediately moved towards the emergency (exit) window and broke it and managed to jump out."
According to the cleaner of the bus, most of the passengers were sleeping when the accident took place. The cleaner, who has been admitted to a hospital in Hyderabad, said he was pulled out of the burning bus by the driver of a car passing through the area.
An eye-witness said he saw the bus going up in flames at around 5.15 AM and within 30 minutes it was reduced to ashes.
Anxious family members and relatives (from Hyderabad and Bangalore) of the victims rushed to Palem in order to know the fate of their loved ones even as several others queued up at the office of the bus operator in Lakdi-Ka-Pul area in Hyderabad to collect information.
"When we enquired, no details were given. We are worried. There is no clarity here. They are still collecting the list from their Bangalore office," was the refrain of some of the relatives.
Expressing shock and anguish, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy said that an inquiry would be conducted into the tragedy to prevent recurrence of such accidents.
Reddy, who is away on a tour of rain-hit north coastal Andhra districts, monitored the situation from Visakhapatnam, an official release said.
After being informed about the accident, the Chief Minister directed collectors of Mahabubnagar and Kurnool districts, as well as police and fire officials to rush to the spot immediately and report to him about the incident.
As per his directions, AP Information Minister D K Aruna rushed to the spot and personally supervised relief works at the site of ghastly bus accident.
Housing Minister Uttam Kumar Reddy also reached the spot, while the Collector, Superintendent of Police, Mahabubnagar and senior officials attended relief works at the accident site, the release said.
A control room was set up at nearby Wanaparthy and the injured were shifted to be treated at Hyderabad.
The Chief Minister is in touch with the Information Minister over phone from Visakhapatnam, the release said.
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