QUETTA / KOHAT: At least 54 people, including women and children, died in two accidents in Balochistan’s Bela area and Kohat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Sunday, rescue and police officials said.
In the first accident, 41 people were burnt alive after a passenger coach fell into a ravine and caught fire, 25km south of Khuzdar.
In Kohat, 13 dead bodies were recovered after an overloaded boat carrying students of a religious seminary capsized in Tanda Dam lake.
The Karachi-bound bus met with the accident at the Quetta-Karachi National Highway at 4:15am in the morning.
According to officials, the bus carrying 44 passengers was coming from Pishin town. It crashed with the pillar of a bridge near the Cheneki area in Bela tehsil and was careened into the ravine.
41 burnt alive as bus falls into ravine, catches fire; 13 drown after boat capsized in Tanda Dam
The bus immediately caught fire which gutted the entire vehicle, killing all but three passengers — a man, a woman and an eight-year-old child — who had managed to jump out of the burning bus.
The injured were moved to Karachi Civil Hospital’s burns unit. The man is said to have received burn injuries and is in critical condition.
Lasbela SSP Israr Ahmed Umrani told Dawn that 41 people, including the bus crew, were burnt to death on the spot. He added that rescue teams had reached the site as soon as they received the information but the rescue operation couldn’t start due to the intensity of the fire.
The passengers couldn’t be rescued as no fire tenders were available in Bela or nearby areas which delayed the rescue operation, Mr Umrani added.
Medical Emergency Response Centre Director General Asghar Ramzan said fire brigades reached the site when the bus was burnt completely and just took part in the cooling process of the wreckage.
The charred bodies were recovered from the wreckage by the rescue workers and shifted to Bela hospital, he added.
Bela Assistant Commissioner Hamza Anjum told Dawn that the bodies were beyond recognition and DNA tests were being done for identification.
He said only three bodies could be identified by now as Syed Muhammad Saleem, Bibi Akhtaran and Muhammad Saleem. The injured woman and child have been identified as Ferozan Bibi and Noman. respectively.
“The deceased included six members of the same family,” hospital sources said, quoting the deceased’s relatives who reached Bela after the incident.
Till evening, 40 bodies were moved to Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital for a DNA test.
Speeding seen as cause
The coach started its journey from Pishin with 32 passengers at 6:30pm on Saturday. After reaching Quetta, 12 more passengers got on board and the bus left for Karachi at 8:30pm.
Lasbela Deputy Commissioner Murad Kasi said the apparent cause of the accident appeared to be speeding.
The driver lost control of the vehicle while taking a U-turn and crashed into the bridge’s pillar, he said, adding a thorough investigation would be conducted for more details.
There were reports that the bus was transporting smuggled Iranian oil which caught fire. However, officials in Bela did not confirm the reports.
The All Quetta-Karachi Coaches Union spokesperson also denied the reports, saying that slippery roads had caused the accident.
The cause of the fire was a short circuit in the bus wiring, the spokesperson added.
According to officials, a group of around 50 students of Mir Bash Khel seminary, between the ages of eight and 14 years, went for a picnic along with the seminary’s caretaker.
Eyewitnesses said around 34 people were riding the boat when it capsized Six people were rescued while a search operation is underway to locate 15 missing persons who are feared to be dead, hospital and official sources said.
The caretaker’s son, identified as Shahid Noor, and relatives are also among the dead.
Kohat District Police Officer Abdur Rauf Qaisarani told Dawn that rescue work was expected to continue throughout the night.
The rescued children have been moved to the KDA teaching hospital.
Rescue 1122 personnel confirmed moving 13 dead bodies to the hospital.
Rescue officials told Dawn they had no divers and there was only one diver reserved for Tanda lake.
Kohat Deputy Commissioner Furqan Ashraf has appealed to locals with expertise in swimming to reach the site and aid the authorities in the rescue operation.
Most students were not wearing mandatory waterproof jackets as the sailor didn’t have enough equipment, said one eyewitness.
The terrain is quite tough as the lake is surrounded by high mountains and no mobile signal coverage is available there.
In a conflicting report about the death toll, a local bodies representative Akhunzada Shah Hussain claimed while talking to reporters that 14 children had been recovered, out of which 11 were dead.
He also censured Rescue 1122 which he claimed reached the spot late as most personnel in the organisation were non-natives who were not aware of the directions. Due to this a lot of time was wasted, he said.
In a statement, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif expressed deep sorrow and grief over the bus accident.
“The loss of 40 lives in the Lasbela bus accident is nothing less than a catastrophe. My sympathies and prayers are with the bereaved families,” the prime minister tweeted after the initial reports.
He added the provincial government must launch an investigation to ascertain the causes of the accident.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo and Home Minister Ziaullah Langove also expressed grief over the accident. They also extended their condolences to the bereaved families.
Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2023