Taiwanese investigators weighing speeding, possible driver fatigue as causes of bus crash that killed 33

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 1:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2017, 12:01am

Taiwanese investigators are checking whether the driver of a tour bus that flipped over killing 33 people in the island’s worst road accident in decades was overworked.

The family of the driver, Kang Yu-hsun, who died in the crash, said he had been working hard throughout the Lunar New Year holiday, a peak travel time. But the company that arranged the tour said Kang was given a rest just hours before the accident.

The bus with 44 people on board was returning to Taipei after a day-long visit to Wuling Farm in Taichung on Monday night when it failed to navigate a long curving exit ramp and toppled over the guardrail onto its side, police said.

Kang, tour guide Hsiao Ju-chin and 28 passengers were killed in the crash. Two others were pronounced dead at hospital and an elderly man who was in intensive care died on Tuesday. Eleven others are listed as injured.

Rescuers later described the scene as gruesome. “It was like a hell with body parts of some victims scattered around the bloodstained bus, whose top had been torn off when it hit the ground against the hillside,” one emergency worker said.

An initial investigation found the bus was travelling above the speed limit, and possible driver ­fatigue was also being considered.

“Through a highway surveillance camera, the bus was speeding at the time of the accident,” a highway police officer said. “[Police] do not rule out that possibility the bus driver was fatigued due to long hours of work as one of the causes.”

32 killed in Taiwan tour bus crash, island’s worst highway accident in decades

The elder sister and the daughter of the driver told reporters Kang had not received any time off since the holiday began last month. “My father was assigned to take tourists to scenic spots during the Lunar New Year holiday and only returned home on Friday morning,” daughter Kang ­Yi-chen said.

Before the outing to Wuling Farm, her father had driven tourists to Hohuan Mountain in central Taiwan on a two-day trip, she said. On Monday, Kang Yu-hsun was reported to have worked about 14 hours, with his pick-ups beginning at 6.30am.

But a spokesman for the Tieh Lien Hua Travel Agency, which according to the island’s tourism authority arranged the outing, said Kang was given a three-hour break while the tourists were visiting the farm.

Investigators said they would also check whether the coach had been properly maintained.

More than 150 police and firefighters responded to the crash, according to a government committee established to oversee the incident.

Many of the passengers were elderly, the tourism bureau said.

“I was almost thrown out of the bus too but was luckily blocked by the seat in front of me,” said Hsiao Hsiu-hua, 54, who was being treated for injuries in hospital.

“Most people were asleep after the long day trip. When the bus turned onto a road curve, all of a sudden it tilted towards the right against the hill and suddenly everyone was shouting.”

Cabinet spokesman Hsu ­Kuo-yung said the victims’ families would each receive NT$6 million (US$193,000 or HK$1.5 million) in compensation.

The crash was the island’s most serious highway accident since 1986 when a bus fell into a river in central Taiwan, killing 42 people.

In July last year, 26 people, mostly tourists from the mainland, died when a fire engulfed their coach on the way to Taoyuan International Airport. Prosecuters later determined the driver was suicidal and intentionally set the fire.

26 people, including 24 mainland Chinese, killed in tour bus blaze in Taiwan

Another coach carrying ­mainland tourists crashed into a bridge in southern Taiwan earlier this month, injuring several ­passengers.