HONG KONG: At least 21 people were killed and 20 injured yesterday when a double-decker bus packed with commuters ran off a highway and plunged down a steep slope in one of Hong Kong's worst-ever traffic accidents.
Police said the bus, operated by the Kowloon Motor Bus Company, crashed through railings on the busy Tuen Mun Highway in the western Kowloon area of Hong Kong's largely rural New Territories.
A government spokesman confirmed the death toll at 21, with 20 people aged nine to 54 admitted to four local hospitals for injuries sustained in the crash.
Three patients were in critical condition, 14 were serious and three others were stable, she said.
Police said the crash, which sent the bus plunging about 50 metres before landing on its side, was one of the worst on the city's relatively safe highways in at least a decade.
“It is the worst traffic accident in Hong Kong for more than 10 years,” a police spokesman said without elaborating.
Fire-fighters at the scene said 19 people died instantly as the bus smashed down onto rocks near a small village. Two others died in hospital.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known but witnesses said the bus collided with a cargo truck. Police said skid marks at the crash site indicated a collision.
“At some point, both drivers applied their brakes; you can see from the scene the large skid marks,” a police officer at the scene told reporters.
“The bus was pushed over from the highway,” he said, adding that the driver of the truck was helping with inquiries.
Police regional commander of the New Territory south, Bonnie Smith, said later that charges may be laid against the truck driver.
“So far our evidence suggests we have sufficient evidence to arrest and charge somebody for dangerous driving and causing death. This person is the container truck driver,” she said.
The bus company's managing director, John Chan, told reporters that the bus driver, on his first trip of the day, had died from his injuries.
He said the bus was new and had been inspected a couple of days earlier.
“I heard a big bang,” said an elderly woman living in the village close to where the bus landed.
At least one passenger was thrown from the vehicle when it landed, leaving others trapped inside, police said.
Injured passengers, many still unconscious, were seen being carried away on stretchers after rescuers formed a human chain to free them from the wreckage.
A temporary mortuary was set up near the site of the accident to identify the victims.
The wreckage of the bus, its front end crushed by the impact, was later lifted by a crane onto the elevated highway above.
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa expressed “great sadness” as he stood at the scene of the accident. “This has been a devastating, a very painful accident for all of us,” he said. – AFP
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