A tour bus slid off a precipitous road at Taroko Gorge National Park in Hualien County yesterday afternoon, injuring the driver, the Taiwanese tour guide and 13 South Korean tourists.
A video clip captured by a dashboard camera showed that the accident occurred when the bus was about to enter an uphill section of Highway No. 8 after passing over Jingwen Bridge. The bus’ engine appeared to flame out, causing it to roll backwards toward the bridge at high speed. The bus subsequently hit the barriers on the roadside and fell down a slope.
The bus was snagged by trees and the 15 people aboard sustained only minor injuries.
Hsieh Chieh-tien (謝界田), director of the Directorate-General of Highways’ motor vehicle division, said the medium-sized tour bus belonged to Hualien-based Shih Tong Tour Bus Co (世通遊覽車客運).
Manufactured in 2003, the bus had passed its biannual vehicle inspection in December last year and was scheduled to be inspected again in July.
“The tour operator has 36 tour buses and 56 drivers, but the one who was assigned to drive the tour bus today [yesterday] has a license to drive large trucks, but not tour buses,” Hsieh said.
Hsieh said the driver was 59-year-old Chen Cheng-ching (陳正欽).
Chen formerly held a license to operate commercial-use large-size trucks, but now he only holds a license to drive regular large trucks because of a failure to have his professional license examined.
As the company hired an unqualified driver, Hsieh said, the agency would fine Shih Tong NT$70,000 for violating the Highway Act (公路法) and other regulations.
The license plate of the tour bus would be suspended and kept in possession for two months. Chen is to be fined NT$40,000.
Records at the motor vehicle office show that Chen had once been fined for running a red light. He was also once caught driving through an electronic toll collection lane on the freeway without paying and he has been fined for speeding twice. He was also penalized for not turning on the dashboard camera while operating a large truck, a requirement for all truck drivers.
Hsieh said it was Chen’s first day working for Shih Tong.
Asked why the company had hired a truck driver to drive a tour bus when it had a sufficient number of qualified drivers, Hsieh said the company claimed it had been having problems locating a driver for the tour group.
While Hsieh said the cause of the accident had yet to be determined, that the driver lacked the required training might have played a role.
Tour bus drivers are required to perform six hours of training driving uphill and downhill, Hsieh said.
The Tourism Bureau said the tour was organized by Grand International Travel Service Co (阡齊旅行社), which has a license to arrange tours for visitors from abroad.
Each tourist was insured, it said.
The accident comes a week after the launch of direct flights between Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) and Gimpo International Airport in Seoul.