17 killed as bus plunges into pond
The traffic on the road was quite light and the bus was moving at a speed of 40 to 50mph. It was meant to be a regular morning ride from Bhandaria to Barishal.
When the driver started striking conversations with the bus's supervisor and some passengers, no one on the bus knew about the nightmare that would befall them soon.
The driver kept talking to the supervisor, often looking at him sideways or over his shoulder. At one point, he lost control over the wheel and the bus skidded off the road and into a pond in Jhalakathi.
That was how survivors and eyewitnesses described the accident that killed at least 17 people, including three children, and injured 35 others in Chhatrakanda area yesterday.
They also said the bus was overloaded with passengers, which might have contributed to the crash.
The Barishal-bound bus of Bashar Smriti Paribahan, which was carrying over 60 passengers against its capacity of 52, left Pirojpur's Bhandaria around 9:00am and fell into the roadside pond on the Barishal-Khulna highway around 10:00am.
"I saw the driver was talking to the supervisor constantly. Suddenly, the bus came off the road and crashed. All the passengers were trapped inside the bus. As it was overloaded, the bus drowned instantly. I could somehow manage to scramble out of the bus," Md Momin, a survivor, told this correspondent at the scene of the accident.
A pall of gloom hovered over the entire area when the bodies were being recovered.
"My cousin Piara Begum was going to Barishal with Sumaiya, her 6-year-old daughter, to visit a doctor. When the accident occurred, Sumaiya fell from his mother's lap and drowned," said Newaj, a resident of Kathalia upazila in Jhalakathi.
Piara, however, survived.
"I, along with my elder brother Shaheen Mollah and father Salam Mollah, was going to Barishal riding on the bus. When the bus fell into the pond, I broke a window and came out of it. But my father and brother could not. They died," said Russel, a brick kiln worker from Bhandaria upazila.
Talking about the crash, Animesh Mandol, Motor Vehicle Inspector of BRTA in Jhalakathi, said, "The accident occurred due to the driver's sheer carelessness."
However, the bus's fitness and road permit documents were updated. The bus was registered in the name of Abul Kalam Akon, a resident of Jhalkathi, Mandol added.
Echoing Mandol, two other survivors, Aysha Siddika and Manir Mollik, said the accident would not have happened if the driver was careful and looking at the road ahead.
The driver, Mohon, managed to flee the scene.
It could not be confirmed immediately whether the driver had a valid driving license, Ma124ndol informed.All the 17 passengers died on the spot, said Barishal Divisional Commissioner Md Shawkat Ali. The wounded are receiving treatment at different hospitals, he added.
According to Jhalakathi Sadar Thana officials, identities of the deceased are: Tarek Rahman, 45; Abdus Salam Molla, 60; Sahin Molla, 25; Sumaiya, 6; Abdullah, 8; Rahima Begum, 60; Abul Kalam Howlader; Ripamoni, 2; Airin Aktar, 22; Nayon,16; Rabeya Begum, 80; Khadiza Begum, 43; Kushbu Akther, 17; Sadia Akter, 24; Salma Akther, 42; Faruk Hossen Howlader, 55; Parvin Akther, 53.
Police said most of the victims were residents of Pirojpur's Bhandaria upazila and Jhalkathi's Rajapur upazila.
On receiving information, fire service officials rushed to the scene, recovered the bodies and rescued the injured, said Mizanur Rahman, Barisal Divisional Deputy Director of Fire Service and Civil Defence.
"We pulled the bus out of the pond after a two-hour effort," he added.
A five-member probe body, headed by the additional district magistrate, will investigate the accident, said the divisional commissioner.
Traffic movement on the Barisal-Rajapur-Bhandaria road remained suspended for two and half hours after the accident.