Probe focus turns to emergency exits

AFTERMATH::Investigators are trying to determine why the vehicle’s emergency exit was not used. Family members of the Chinese tourists arrived yesterday

By Cheng Shu-ting and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Fri, Jul 22, 2016 - Page 1

Preliminary results from an investigation into Tuesday’s tour bus fire showed that an emergency exit on the left rear side of the bus was operational, the Taoyuan District Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday.

Twenty-four Chinese tourists and two Taiwanese — the bus driver and tour guide — died after their bus caught fire on National Freeway No. 2 en route to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.

Police and passing truck drivers failed in their attempts to open an emergency exit on the left rear side of the bus from the outside, investigators said, adding that they are trying to determine whether the external handle on that exit was damaged when the bus hit the guardrails, during the fire or during attempts to clear the site.

The left rear emergency exit was operational and could be opened from the inside, investigators said.

Another exit on the right rear of the bus had already been opened, presumably before the first collision with the guardrail, they added.

However, investigators said that after the collision the door could not be opened properly as it was wedged against the guardrail.

As the right rear exit had to be activated by the driver, investigators said they were still trying to determine whether the door had been opened by the driver, Su Ming-cheng (蘇明成), or one of the passengers.

This detail might prove critical in understanding the case, as an autopsy of Su showed that he suffered from smoke inhalation before his death, investigators said, adding that they had not ruled out the possibility that Su had been knocked unconscious in the collision.

Prosecutors said they are trying to determine if a fire extinguisher found in the bus had been used.

Investigators are also looking into why the bus continued along the highway after smoke was first seen at the 4.2km mark of the freeway, when the bus had slowed to between 20kph and 30kph.

“We are also looking into what happened between the 4.2km mark, at the 2.9km mark where the bus hit the outer guardrail and where it crashed into the inner guardrail at the 2.8km mark,” the team said.

The office said it was releasing information to keep victims’ family members informed.

The office held an information session at the Chuto Plaza Hotel in Taoyuan at 8:30pm for the victims’ family members, who arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport at 4pm.

Forty-nine family members, as well as 21 Chinese officials were taken to a funeral parlor in Taoyuan’s Jhongli District (中壢) after their arrival.