Fri, 17 Mar 2000

31 killed after bus pitches into a ravine in South Sumatra

PALEMBANG, South Sumatra (JP): At least 31 people were killed and five others seriously injured when their intercity bus plying the Bandarlampung-Bengkulu route plunged into a ravine in Lahat, South Sumatra, on Tuesday.

According to the police investigation, 28 of those killed were passengers on the bus, and the other three fatalities were members of the bus crew. These last three were identified as driver Wagimin, 42; codriver Edi, 26; and Ros, 25, the driver's assistant.

Police are speculating that the brakes on the bus, called Marlin and with police number BG 3697 LA, failed as the vehicle was traveling downhill on the winding road.

"The driver might have lost control of the bus. The bus dove into the ravine without hitting the concrete protecting fence along the road," Col. Momon Rusmana, the head of the South Sumatra Traffic Police, said.

The bus plunged into the 200-meter deep ravine and came to rest in a large tree, some 10 meters above Lematang River.

There is some speculation some of the passengers were thrown from the bus as it plunged down the ravine.

A reporter based in Palembang said there were no eyewitnesses to the fatal accident, but a number of road construction workers who were sleeping in tents near the accident site said they heard a crash and muffled sounds in the ravine at 1 a.m.

They said they ignored the noise and went back to sleep.

Police said they were notified of the accident two hours later. They said it was difficult to mount any type of rescue operation in the dark, adding that the area was "unfriendly".

Locals said the road near the village of Mingkik, Dempo Selatan district, where the accident took place, was "terrible".

The five-meter wide, two-way road winds its way between hills and ravines, and there are no streetlights along this stretch of road.

Rescuers, consisting of policemen and local residents, found it difficult to remove the bodies from the bus because of the difficult terrain.

Erna, 30, one of the survivors, who is now being treated at the hospital in Lahat, said she was asleep when the accident occurred. "I don't know anything about the accident, except for the fact that I spent almost two days down in the river," she said. She was traveling with her husband, Ali Imron, and his younger brother Apri, 28, from their home in Bengkulu to celebrate the Islamic Day of Sacrifice, which fell on Thursday.

Her husband was killed in the accident, while her brother-in- law Apri was seriously injured.

Lahat Police chief Lt. Col. Eko said on Thursday the bodies of four of the victims had been claimed by their relatives, while the others were being kept at the hospital in Lahat, which is located some 25 kilometers from the accident site.

"We will have to bury the decaying bodies tomorrow (Friday)," he said on Thursday. (sur)