Taiwan bus inferno kills all 26 aboard

GRIM SPECTACLE: Investigators examine the bus that caught alight and then crashed into an expressway barrier. Picture: AFP
GRIM SPECTACLE: Investigators examine the bus that caught alight and then crashed into an expressway barrier. Picture: AFP

Desperate passengers tried in vain to escape burning coach

A Taiwan bus taking mainland Chinese tourists to the airport for their flight home caught fire and crashed yesterday, killing all 26 on board as desperate passengers struggled in vain to escape.

The disaster was the latest in a series that have called into question Taiwan’s safety record.

Media footage showed the bus, with flames shooting from the front, had rammed into an expressway barrier near Taipei.

The images showed thick plumes of smoke and burnt-out wreckage at the roadside.

A police spokesman said the bus had caught fire before it crashed into the barrier, but gave no reason.

“All the people on the bus died,” National Fire Agency spokesman Lin Kuan-cheng said.

“At this stage it is still not clear why no passengers escaped from the bus.”

The bodies of the victims had remained inside the bus as police and prosecutors examined the site, an AFP photographer at the scene said.

One image in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper showed two men trying to smash the windows with fire extinguishers as the doors of the vehicle remained shut.

The Liberty Times newspaper quoted an unnamed witness as saying passengers had been pounding the bus windows for help as the driver swerved sharply before the crash.

A firefighter at the scene said there had been no survivors still calling for help when they arrived.

The tour group of 24 people – three children, 15 women and six men — was from China’s northeastern city of Dalian, Taiwan’s interior ministry said.

A Taiwanese driver and Taiwanese tour guide had also been also killed, the National Fire Agency said.

The group were on their way to Taipei’s Taoyuan airport for a 4.30pm flight to Dalian after an eight-day tour of the island.

The accident happened shortly before 1pm.

Chinese tour groups have increasingly visited Taiwan in recent years after a boom in mainland tourism.

That was fostered by a rapprochement between the rivals under former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who came to power in 2008 and left office in May.

There are fears the industry may be hit after Beijing-sceptic Tsai Ing-wen won the presidency in January, amid reports that tourist numbers have dropped.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, the official body handling cross-strait relations, said it had informed its counterpart in China of the crash.

Several recent fatal accidents in Taiwan have led to safety probes.

The collapse of a residential block during an earthquake in Tainan in February, which left 115 dead, led to an investigation which showed builders had cut corners.

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