Little did a group of 17 tourists headed for a 10-day Christmas holiday trip to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore en route to the Mumbai airport, know that it would turn out to be the final journey for some of them. According to the police, six people, including four tourists, were killed and 13 others suffered injuries when an 'over speeding' mini bus ferrying the tourists to the Mumbai airport from where they were supposed to fly to Thailand next day, tore through the divider of the Pune-Mumbai Expressway and rammed into a loaded trucking coming from opposite direction near Lonavla on Saturday midnight.
Speed demon: The mangled remains of the tourist bus in Lonavla
yesterday. Pic/Navnath Kaple
Driver among dead
The bus driver and tour manager were also killed in the mishap. The relatives of the injured alleged that the accident happened because of over speeding. The bus was scheduled to leave for Mumbai at 9.30 pm, but it was delayed by two hours. "It is quite possible that the driver, under pressure to cover up for the lost time and distance, had indulged in speeding, losing control over the vehicle and causing the accident," said Digambar Chikne, brother of Prakash Patane, who also suffered injuries.
He added, "We were informed by Lokmanya hospital around 1 am. We were shell-shocked. The survivors of the tragedy too are numb with shock. No one is in condition to speak on what exactly led to this accident as all were asleep when this accident took place."
How it happened
PI Mohan Jadhav of the Lonavla Rural Police said, "The accident took place as driver lost control over the vehicle and tore through the road divider only to ram into a goods truck approaching from Mumbai side."
Jadhav said, "Passengers were caught unawares as many of them were fast asleep at time of accident, causing more causalities and injuries."
The deceased have been identified as Meenakshi Abhijit Mahajani (50) of Paud Road, Vijayendra Gopalkrishna Mathkar (60) of Bibvevadi, Sanjay and Anuja Tikale, a couple from Karvenagar. Apart from these tourists, bus driver Ashok Jadhav from Pune and tour manager Pratik Joshi from Karad also lost their life in the mishap.
Initially, the injured were admitted to Lokmanya Hospital in Nigadi, but many of them are shifted to various private hospitals in the city for better treatment.
The other side
The city-based travel agency, Girikand Travels, has denied the charges of speeding and maintained that the driver was experienced and there was no reason to suspect his skills. Sachin Gosavi of Girikand Travels said that the accident happened as the bus tyre had burst after falling into a trench. "As a result of this, the vehicle entered into the opposite track and was hit by a truck coming from Mumbai side near Devlali," Gosavi said. Defending the driver, he added, "Jadhav was working with us for last four to five years so we have no reason to suspect his driving skills. Besides after accident our team has surveyed the spot and located the trench where the tyre might have got busted." Commenting on the injured, Gosavi added, "Now only a few injured are admitted to Lokmanya Hospital, most of them, except Ved Pore all injured were reportedly stable, have been shifted to other private hospitals in Pune."