HYDERABAD: A speeding bus exploded in a ball of flames after crashing into the central reservation on a southern Indian highway on Wednesday, killing 44 passengers as they slept.
Only five people on the vehicle escaped the inferno, including the driver and the cleaner who broke windows and fled before the fuel tank exploded, police said.
Local police spokesman Venkateshwarlu said the driver and cleaner had tried to flee the scene of the accident, which occurred around 5 a.m. local time between Bangalore and Hyderabad.
“The police caught them and they are now in our custody for questioning,” he said.
Police arrived later to question the owners of Jabbar Travels, which offer buses to cities across the south of India.
Many of the victims were charred beyond recognition. Television pictures showed flames leaping out of the vehicle, which was completely gutted by the time firefighters arrived.
The survivors were being treated in a nearby hospital in Wanaparthy, Venkateshwarlu said.
Around 140,000 people died in road accidents in India in 2012, according to the government’s National Crime Records Bureau, which works out at 15 an hour.
Bad roads, speeding vehicles and poor driving are among the contributing factors, and bus crashes with a double-digit death toll are far from rare.
In May, at least 33 people died when an overcrowded bus skidded off a road into a fast-flowing river in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.
At least 30 were killed earlier this month in the northeastern state of Assam when a heavy goods truck careered onto the wrong side of the road and smashed head-on into two packed vehicles. AFP
The World Health Organization’s global status report on road safety 2013 found that eight percent of India’s road user deaths were bus drivers or passengers while 32 percent were riders of motorbikes or three-wheelers.