Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 5 News List

School-bus crash and fire kill 54 in remote East Java


At least 54 people, most of them schoolgirls returning from a holiday in Bali, were killed when their bus burst into flames after colliding with a truck and a minivan in Indonesia's East Java, officials said yesterday.

The bus was taking the children from Bali to their school in Yogyakarta when the accident occurred on a coastal highway in Situbondo regency, 830km east of the capital Jakarta, late on Wednesday night.

Distraught parents gathered at the Yogyakarta school to check the bus's passenger list. Sobbing relatives clutched each other and several woman collapsed. Family members were later put on buses to be taken to the hospital to begin identifying the dead.

Situbondo Police Chief Tugas Dwi Apriyanto said the bus burst into flames after colliding with the other vehicles and most of the victims were thought to have burned to death.

"They were part of a three-bus group. The other two have safely arrived at their school this morning," he said. At least 47 of the dead children were girls, he said.

Many victims were so badly burned identification may require dental records or DNA testing, doctors said.

Police said they had apprehended a man believed to have fled the scene with the driver of the truck. The driver was still at large. The minivan rammed into the back of the bus, police said.

It was not immediately known what caused the crash. Indonesia has a poor record for traffic accidents, especially on densely populated Java island.

Television footage of the scene on national news channels showed the bus and truck completely gutted by fire.

Police rescue crews and volunteers worked under spotlights through the night to extract dozens of burned bodies, carrying them to ambulances on stretchers.

An unknown number of injured were being treated.

"There were 51 students, two teachers and one tour leader killed," said Nanang, a doctor in the emergency room of Situbondo Hospital.

East Java Police Chief Heru Sutanto visited the site and Situbondo Hospital as an investigation got going.

"The assistant of the truck driver who ran away has been apprehended. The driver has been identified but is still at large," he told local television station SCTV.

"We cannot determine the cause of the accident at this stage, but the evidence we found on the scene is showing that the truck was in the wrong lane."

The bus driver and his assistant survived the crash, although they were badly injured. The man at the wheel of the minivan was being treated in hospital.

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