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Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi expressway mishap: 25 charred to death after bus catches fire

Updated on: 02 July,2023 07:31 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Team mid-day |

Police say driver who crashed into pole was not speeding; eye witness claims quick response teams couldn’t contain fire, delaying rescue efforts by nearly an hour

Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi expressway mishap: 25 charred to death after bus catches fire

The Vidarbha Travels bus carrying 33 passengers caught fire minutes after it overturned, said eye witnesses

By Rajendra B Aklekar, Eshan Kalyanikar, Ranjeet Jadhav and Rian Khorana

Twenty five people died and six others, including the driver, were injured when a bus caught fire following a crash on the Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Expressway, near Sindkhed Raja in Buldhana, in the early hours of Saturday. Authorities are currently in the process of identifying the bodies, many of which are charred beyond recognition.

According to a preliminary report by the state transport department’s Amravati RTO and Road Safety Cell, a copy of which is with Sunday mid-day, the incident occurred at 1.32 am. As per details, the Ashok Leyland bus, operated by the Nagpur-based Vidarbha Travels, was carrying a total of 33 passengers, and was en route Pune from Nagpur. The driver told officials that he lost control of the vehicle after a tyre burst, and crashed into an iron pole. However, as per eyewitness accounts, the bus first hit a four-feet-tall pole on the right side. The impact of the collision caused the axle of the front wheel to get detached from the bus chasis; the bus tilted on the right side and hit the divider on the side of the fuel tank. The engine oil of the vehicle was already hot, and this led the vehicle to immediately catch fire, the report read.

CM Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis meet the injured victims at Rural Hospital Deulgaon Raja in BuldhanaCM Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis meet the injured victims at Rural Hospital Deulgaon Raja in Buldhana

While the driver managed to leap out of the vehicle, most of the passengers, who were caught unawares, couldn’t escape and were killed in the fire. Five others, who managed to get out in the nick of time, have sustained injuries and are currently receiving treatment at the Rural Hospital Deulgaon Raja in Buldhana. “Their condition is stable,” said Dr Praveen Ghongate, Buldhana’s resident medical officer (outreach).

They have been identified as Sandeep Maroti Rathod from Tivas; Yogesh Ramrao Gavai from Aurangabad; Sainath Dharam Singh Pawar from Mahur; Shashikant Ramakrishna Gajbhiye Pandharkawda, Yavatmal; and Pankaj Ramesh Chandra from Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. The driver, Sheikh Danish Sheikh Ismail, hails from Yavatmal. He has been taken into police custody for questioning, and authorities are investigating his claims of a tyre burst. The investigating team has, however, ruled out speeding. Having taken into account the time the bus took to enter the expressway after leaving from Nagpur at 5 pm, officials concluded that the bus was travelling at a speed of about 70 kmph.

Aayush Ghatge, who survived the incident, said that he was sleeping, when two persons suddenly fell on him. “I realised that the bus had crashed,” he says, “I managed to break a window pane of the bus... me and two other persons got out so that we could ask for assistance.” Minutes after they stepped out, the bus caught fire. He didn’t sustain any injuries.

Chandra, a biomedical service engineer, who got out of the bus along with Ghatge, said that he and the others, who managed to escape helplessly watched the bus catch fire. “None of the passing motorists tried to help. Instead of aiding the rescue effort, they were busy taking videos.” 

The first Quick Response Vehicle arrived 25 minutes after the crash. Atul Umbarkar, first responder and driver of the local police van told mid-day that the vehicle’s fire extinguisher wasn’t equipped to contain the fire. “We lost another 40 minutes before the [fire brigade arrived and] actual extinguishing started,” he said, adding, “Lives could have been saved.”

The authorities are still in the process of identifying the deceased, 14 of whom hailed from Wardha. Ramesh Kolape, Tehsildar from Wardha is in Buldhana to coordinate with families. Kolape said that many relatives have already arrived, while some are on their way. The oldest person, who lost their life was a 63-year-old woman, and the youngest was a two-year-old.

Speaking with mid-day, Ankush Gavande, Nagpur’s Disaster Management Officer, said that four of the 25 victims were from his district. “We have contacted their family members, and they are on their way to Buldhana.” 

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis visited Buldhana to assess the situation, and an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh has been announced for the families of the victims. The Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Expressway opened to public on December 11; the stretch has since reported 169 accidents and 102 deaths.

Opposition reacts

Uddhav Thackeray, former CM of Maharashtra
‘Ever since the Expressway opened, the accidents haven’t stopped... it has [already] killed some 300 people so far. The government hasn’t done anything about the safety. This tragedy should open the eyes of the government’

Sharad Pawar, NCP chief
‘The tragedy raises a question of speeding of private vehicles that needs to be tackled by the government. The preventive measures should be implemented at the earliest. I had already suggested it to the department concerned’

Imtiaz Jalil, AIMIM MP
‘I want to know whether the MSRDC had received a road safety clearance. Did the agency even know about the dangers the road posed? The two leaders opened the expressway in a hasty manner. It is because of that haste that so many have died so far. This is not an accident, but a murder’

25 min
Time it took for first quick response team to arrive at site

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