36 die in fiery inferno as sleeper coach hits tanker in northwestern China

An overnight double decker coach carrying sleeping passengers rams into the back of a tanker loaded with formaldehyde in Shaanxi

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 August, 2012, 7:36am

At least 36 people died and two were in critical condition when a double-decker coach was engulfed in a fire ball after it slammed into the back of a tanker truck full of formaldehyde in Shaanxi province yesterday.

The collision happened at 2.40am on the Ansai section of Baotou-Maoming expressway outside Yanan. China News Service reported that rescuers found 36 bodies in the wrecked coach, which was travelling from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia to Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province. The bus driver was among the dead.

Only three passengers were able to escape as most were asleep at the time of the accident. State media reported that two passengers, a man from Hohhot and a woman from Sichuan province, were in critical condition with severe burns.

China Central Television quoted the third survivor, who was on the upper deck at the rear of the bus, as saying that none of the windows could be opened except a small one near his bed, through which he escaped.

The two drivers of the tanker survived and were being questioned by police. The truck had travelled from Henan province carrying 35 tonnes of formaldehyde. China News Service said the collision happened only a few minutes after the drivers had returned to the expressway after taking a break at a rest area.

Yue Jiuxiang, Yanan city's chief firefighter, told the China News Service that a huge fire immediately engulfed the coach as the formaldehyde, a highly flammable and toxic liquid, leaked from the tank truck.

"The coach was seriously deformed after the collision and it was difficult for passengers to escape, especially as most of them were asleep when the accident happened," he said.

Police did not reveal how fast the vehicles were travelling, although CCTV reported that the coach had left 10 metres of skid marks and was embedded about two-metres into the back of the truck. The television said the coach was burned to a frame and the passenger seats and luggage were burned to ash.

Many internet users blamed the coach driver for the accident, but Tao Guangyuan, a specialist at a Sino-German renewable energy project blamed authorities and the truck maker.

"Formaldehyde is a dangerous material and is usually transported in developed countries by train, which is significantly safer than road transport," Tao said on his microblog.