Sat, Jul 23, 2016 - Page 4 News List

Relatives demand truth about bus fire

PROBE:Some of the relatives of the 24 Chinese who died in the accident wanted Chinese experts to take part in the investigation, a Tourism Bureau official said

AFP, Taipei

A Chinese woman yesterday cries for her loved ones, who died in a bus inferno on Tuesday, at a funeral home in Taoyuan’s Jhongli District yesterday.

Photo: CNA, courtesy of Taoyuan City Government

Grieving relatives of 24 Chinese tourists who died in a bus inferno in Taiwan have demanded answers from authorities, after the worst road accident ever to hit Chinese visitors.

The first group of 46 relatives arrived in Taiwan on Thursday to identify the bodies of their loved ones, and many broke down in tears as they visited a funeral parlor where the victims’ bodies are being kept.

Emotions were high at a briefing hosted by Taiwanese officials, with distraught relatives demanding to know the cause of the tragedy and questioning why no one was able to escape when fire ripped through the bus.

“The relatives demanded the truth and asked about the rescue process,” said Tang Wen-chi, a Tourism Bureau official who attended the late-night meeting on Thursday.

“Some of them wanted Chinese experts to take part in the investigation,” Tang added.

“Why is there no truth after so many days? Why can’t we find anyone to take responsibility?” the Chinese-language United Daily News quoted unnamed relatives as saying.

The report said some relatives questioned whether the low cost of the tour had increased safety risks, as drivers for such tours reportedly often work overtime, leading to fatigue.

The price for an eight-day tour around Taiwan, tailor-made for Chinese tourist groups, typically costs less than NT$20,000.

The bus was just a few kilometers away from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport for passengers to catch a flight home on Tuesday, when it was engulfed in flames and careered through an expressway barrier.

All 26 people on board, including a Taiwanese driver and tour guide, were killed.

Investigators are probing the cause of the accident and say the fire started at the front of the bus, near the driver’s seat.

Questions are still swirling over why no one was able to escape via the emergency exits.

Chinese officials have demanded Taiwan take measures to ensure the safety of Chinese visitors, after a number of fatal accidents involving tourists from China in recent years.

“Relevant government agencies are taking measures to review and improve travel safety to ensure that similar accidents will not happen again,” Tang said.

Since the accident, authorities have increased inspections of tourist buses and said tour operators will be fined if safety doors are not working.

China’s Association for Tourism Exchange Across the Taiwan Straits Secretary-General Liu Kezhi (劉克智) on Thursday expressed “strong dissatisfaction” over the accident.

Chinese media have also warned of a decline in tourists to Taiwan.

“If Taiwan does not seriously reflect and improve, Chinese tourists would be playing with their lives if they go there again,” Huanqiu.com said in an editorial.

Tourism from China to Taiwan boomed for eight years under Beijing-friendly president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who left office in May.

However, since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took over, ties have become increasingly frosty.

Taiwan’s official data showed that the number of Chinese tourists dropped 16 percent in the May to July period, compared with the same period last year, with speculation Beijing is putting pressure on Tsai by squeezing tourism.

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