Coach driver in crash that left five dead and 32 injured had been working 12-hour shifts, Hong Kong police say
- Fok Chi-sum, 62, had been working from 7pm until 7am
- Bus passengers were airport workers, including Cathay Pacific employees
The driver of a coach that rammed into a taxi, killing five people and injuring 32, could have been exhausted or overworked, Hong Kong police said on Friday, soon after the crash.
“The 62-year-old driver’s last rest day was November 27, and since then he has been working from 7pm until 7am. His working hours were quite long,” Superintendent Michael Yip Siu-ming of the New Territories South traffic division’s investigation and support unit said at a press briefing.
“When the accident took place at 4.54am this morning, he had already worked for 10 hours. He could have been overworked or tired … This is one of the directions of our probe.”
Yip added that the driver, later identified as Fok Chi-sum, had been driving coaches since 2007 and had worked the Tseung Kwan O-airport route “for quite some time”.
Police were also looking into whether the driver had drunk alcohol before the incident.
Surveillance camera records showed the coach crashing into the taxi 40 seconds after the latter stopped at the side of the road, Yip said. The coach then hit the barrier on the right side of the highway. Three people were thrown from the vehicle.
The coach then crashed into a barrier on the left side of the highway and stopped. The bus driver was thrown out by the impact.
“We only found some marks on the road caused by metal parts of the taxi. We could not see any skid marks caused by braking,” Yip said.
He said it was likely that some coach passengers had not fastened their seat belts.
“There were 36 passengers on the coach, and many of them were not tossed out from the vehicle in the accident … We believe it was likely that those tossed out did not fasten their seat belts,” he said.
Three men and two women – the taxi driver, 59, and four passengers from the coach – died following the collision at North West Tsing Yi Interchange in Tsing Yi.
About 10 ambulances were sent to the scene.
“Three people were certified dead at the scene and two people, including the taxi driver, were certified dead in hospital,” a police spokesman said.
There was one passenger on board the taxi, who suffered light injuries.
“The passenger is a German and has returned to their hotel,” a police spokesman said.
The bus driver underwent surgery for his head injuries and was sent to the intensive care unit.
As of 3pm, a government spokeswoman said five of the injured – four men and a woman – remained in hospital and 27 others had been discharged after treatment.
In Princess Margaret Hospital, one man was in critical condition while another was stable.
One man was in stable condition in Yan Chai Hospital. The other two – a man and a woman – were in stable condition in Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong and Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan earlier visited patients at Princess Margaret Hospital for about 30 minutes.
They left at 11.30am and did not respond to questions from reporters regarding the condition of the patients and the possible issue of driving while fatigued.
The bus passengers were employees from five companies providing services at Hong Kong International Airport, including Cathay Pacific Group, according to police.
Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg said 18 staff from three companies in the group were admitted to hospital, and 15 of them had been discharged by noon. The three subsidiaries dealt with ramp services, passenger handling and catering.
Hogg added that the coach was operated under an arrangement between Cathay Pacific and Kwoon Chung Bus Group, but declined to disclose details.
“We have been talking with the management [of Kwoon Chung] this morning, trying to find out what happened and discuss the safety issue,” he said.
“This is a very, very sad day, and I would like to express condolences to the families and friends of those who were hurt and deceased in the accident this morning,” Hogg added. “We have sent teams to all four hospitals and will do everything we can to help.”
A Cathay Pacific spokesman confirmed at noon that two of the group’s staff members had died in the incident.
“They were one male and one female employee working in the subsidiary company for catering and the division of airport operations,” he said.
Ground handling company Jardine Aviation Services said a few of its employees were involved in the accident and sent to hospital.
“We contacted them right after the accident to provide assistance. They have all been discharged from the hospital now,” its spokesman said. “We would like to convey our deepest sympathy to all the injured and will provide necessary support and assistance to affected colleagues.”
The Airport Authority said it was deeply sorry over the deaths and injuries suffered by the large number of airport staff in the incident.
“We would like to convey our deepest condolences to their families and will contact the companies affected to provide necessary support and assistance,” a spokeswoman said.
One coach passenger said after the crash: “The coach was fast. According to the other passengers seated at the front, there was a taxi pulled over on the side of the road with its hazard lights on.
“But it seemed to me that the coach did not slow down. I fell onto the floor [when it crashed].”
Another said: “The coach crashed on its left [side] and its right before hitting the barrier in the middle of the highway and stopping. The speed was quite high, so some people fell onto the floor.”
Kwoon Chung Bus chairman Matthew Wong Leung-pak told the Post that Fok had been with the company for 12 years.
“The driver in the case started his shift at 7pm on Thursday and rested for more than four hours after he finished one ride some time past 8pm,” he said. “His second and third rides started at 1.32am and 4.01am on Friday, and the latter one ended in the accident.”
Both early-morning rides were to transport workers to the airport from downtown Kowloon.
“The driver is protected by employees’ insurance, and the company will take care of the medical bills for sure,” Wong added.