QUETTA: At least 13 people, including women and children, burned to death when a passenger coach and a pick-up carrying diesel smuggled from Iran caught fire after a head-on collision near the Kan-Mehtarzai area of Qila Saifullah district on Friday.

“Only one passenger survived as he had jumped from the burning coach,” a Levies official said, adding that the survivor’s father died along with other passengers.

Accidents involving vehicles laden with oil continue to happen in Balochistan from time to time. The death toll this year alone tops 45.

As regards the latest tragedy, official sources said the coach carrying 14 passengers was on its way to Qila Saifullah via Zhob from Lahore when it crashed into the pick-up carrying smuggled diesel near Kan-Mehtarzai on Friday morning.

As a result of the collision, both vehicles caught fire. “Thirteen out of the 14 passengers died and their bodies were charred beyond recognition,” said the official. [An AFP report put the death toll at 14].

Personnel of the Levies and other law enforcement agencies rushed to the scene of the crash soon after receiving information about the incident along with rescue workers. “We have recovered three bodies from the burnt passenger coach,” a senior Levies officer confirmed. The only survivor was travelling with his father Abdul Shakoor and belongs to the border town of Chaman.

According to officials, the driver and another man travelling on the pick-up were missing as their bodies were not found in the vehicle that was completely burnt. The search for the two was said to be under way.

The bodies had been shifted to Quetta Civil Hospital for DNA tests for their identification, MLO Dr Ayesha confirmed. She said that after receiving DNA test reports the bodies would be handed over to the families.

According to the Qila Saifullah deputy commissioner, the Levies Force intercepted four vehicles at a check-post in the Muslim Bagh area that were loaded with smuggled Iranian diesel. However, one of the pick-ups escaped the checking and later met with the accident.

CM grieved

Meanwhile, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan expressed his deep sorrow over the tragedy.

He directed the authorities concerned to provide all help and assistance to the bereaving families.

He took serious notice of the illegal movement of Iranian diesel vehicles on national highways and regretted that despite a ban on diesel smuggling, it was still happening. He said the continued smuggling made the performance of the district administration and other authorities concerned questionable.

The chief minister ordered the authorities to complete the inquiry into the incident and submit a report to the CM Secretariat within 24 hours.

He wondered how a vehicle loaded with smuggled diesel travelled the long distance and reached Muslim Bagh. “Why did nobody bother to stop the vehicle?” he questioned.

Balochistan chief secretary retired Captain Fazeel Asghar was also ordered to submit a detailed report within 24 hours.

“It has become essential to prepare a comprehensive strategy to remain safe from such unpleasant incidents in the future. Deputy commissioners of all districts of Balochistan province and the highway police should formulate a policy in this regard,” said the chief minister.

On Oct 18, Makran Division Commissioner Tariq Zehri and his gunman and driver died when his car caught fire after colliding with a vehicle carrying smuggled Iranian diesel on way to Turbat from Quetta.

In January, 28 people were killed in a similar incident near Bela town.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2019