CHAKWAL: As many as 37 people, mostly schoolchildren, died on Monday as an over-loaded passenger bus overturned on the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway, approximately an hour’s drive south of Islamabad.
The death toll is feared to increase as hospital sources said most of the 69 injured were in critical condition.
The 72-seater bus, which was carrying 107 passengers, skidded at the accident-prone Kallar Kahar due to brake failure. The bus was carrying 101 students and five staff members, including vice-principal Hafeez Anwar, of Faisalabad’s Millat Grammar School, who were on their way back from a school trip to Kallar Kahar and Khewra Salt Mines, widely-known as tourist destinations.
Twenty-six people died on the spot, Chakwal DPO Ali Mohsin said. Among those dead were students, the vice-principal and the driver and conductor of the bus. The injured, many of whom are said to be in critical condition, were taken to the Fauji Foundation Hospital in Kallar Kahar and the District Headquarters Hospital in Chakwal, 25 kilometres from the scene of the accident.
“The driver informed one of the teachers first about the brake failure. But the vice-principal told everyone to stay calm and prepare to jump out of the bus,” said injured tenth-grader Muhammad Bilal. But before the passengers could make their moves, the bus overturned. “As the bus was overloaded, some children were standing. They are the ones who died or are severely injured.”
The first response came from the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), which ensures that an ambulance is available at every toll plaza along the M-2 motorway. FWO personnel arrived at
the scene with ambulances and a crane to lift the bus and allow rescue workers to pull out bodies and injured passengers. Rescue 1122 workers also arrived almost immediately and assisted FWO teams.
Meanwhile, in Faisalabad, all schools and government offices have announced a day of mourning. Millat Grammar School is a private school located in Millat Town, some 20 kilometres from Faisalabad city. Most students who attended the school belong to rural areas. Officials at the school said the bus had left Faisalabad at 6am. The students belonged to grades six, seven, eight, nine and ten.
(With additional reporting by Shamsul Islam in Faisalabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2011.