Seven persons were charred to death and 40 others injured, six critically, when a Mumbai-bound bus from Bangalore hit a road median and caught fire near here in the early hours today.
The Volvo bus with 48 passengers, two drivers and a cleaner on board had left Bangalore last night on a journey that turned a nightmare for the passengers, who were sleeping, near Kunimeli bridge, about 14 km from here.
The bus went up in flames around 2.30 AM within minutes after it hit the divider and the diesel tank caught fire, but most passengers escaped by jumping out through the emergency exit, police said.
A Pune-bound passenger's presence of mind alowed several of his co-passengers to survive as he broke open the emergency exit window, they said.
The driver at the wheel escaped and was reported absconding while his assistant is one of the victims, which also included a toddler, Haveri District Superintendent of Police Shashi Kumar said.
All the charred bodies were later identified, police said.
Police said the seriously injured, including the cleaner, were being treated at a hospital in Hubli and those with minor injuries underwent treatment at Haveri district hospital.
Today's mishap comes days after the bus tragedy in Andhra Pradesh's Mahabubnagar about a fortnight ago when 45 people perished when a Volvo bus from Bangalore to Hyderabad hit the median on the national highway and caught fire.
Speaking to reporters here, Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy announced a compensation of Rs one lakh to the kin of the deceased.
Zameer Ahmed Khan, owner of National Travels to which the bus belonged, blamed "some technical problem" in the vehicle for which he held the company responsible.
Volvo said at this stage, it cannot represent the sequence or cause as investigations are continuing by the relevant authorities and offered all cooperation to authorities and agencies investigating the accident. "We already have a team of technical experts in place who will be investigating this accident along with the support of global safety experts," it said in a statement.