Fears of higher toll in Jiangsu school bus crash
A confession by police in Feng county, Jiangsu, that there were at least 41 primary school pupils on a school bus that plunged into an icy ditch on Monday, not 29 as previously reported, casts doubt on the death toll from the accident and claims that the bus was not overloaded.
The bus crashed into a roadside ditch after overturning when the driver swerved to avoid an oncoming tricycle on Monday evening. County authorities initially said that 29 children were on board and that 15 of them were killed.
A Feng county deputy police chief told a press conference on Wednesday that the bus driver, who has been detained by police, had said there were 47 pupils on the bus at the time of the accident, but police could only confirm 41 by Wednesday evening, including 18 who were shown leaving the scene of the crash by surveillance cameras at a nearby factory.
Reporters from The Southern Metropolis News said they were able to confirm 16 deaths instead of the 15 claimed by authorities, and some pupils told them that they had to stand in the aisle of the overcrowded bus when it left Shouxian Township Central Primary School.
Quoting two pupils who survived the crash, Phoenix TV reported on Wednesday that between 60 and 70 children had been on the 52-seater bus when it left the school. However, the director of Feng county's publicity department, Liu Zhi, said the bus was not overloaded and the death toll remained at 15, although an investigation was continuing.
The Feng county government said yesterday it was still trying to find out the exact number of pupils who got on the bus. Families of the pupils killed in the crash are entitled to a total of 502,613 yuan (HK$613,510) in compensation per pupil.
Dozens of pupils have been killed in a series of school bus accidents in recent weeks, including 19 who died when an overcrowded kindergarten minivan was involved in a head-on collision with a coal truck in Zhengning county, Gansu, last month.
Yesterday, a school bus belonging to Bohai Primary School in the Baiyun district of Guangzhou hit a tree, injuring 16 pupils, a teacher and the driver, according to education authorities. Officials said there were 18 children on the bus at the time of the accident, six more than it should have been carrying.
In Feng county, parents have used motorcycles and makeshift tricycles to pick up their children from Shouxian Township Central School since Tuesday after the county government suspended school bus services.
Some parents said it was not safe for their children to travel to school alone.
Yang Dongping, a professor and education specialist from Beijing Institute of Technology, said the string of school bus crashes was an ominous sign that the impact of the forced closure of rural schools in recent years was beginning to take a toll, with rural pupils having increasing difficulty getting to distant schools.
The number of primary schools closed between 2001-2004 in Feng county, Jiangsu, as part of centralisation. The total fell from 445 to 110