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M'sia transport minister vows thorough investigation into Genting bus crash
Publication Date : 23-08-2013
Conflicting accounts swirled on Thursday of what led a packed bus to dive into a ravine, killing 37 people in Malaysia's worst traffic accident, as grieving relatives identified bodies at the morgue of Kuala Lumpur General Hospital.
One survivor said the bus driver was upset with the driver of another car that had recklessly overtaken the bus on the steep, winding road from Genting Highlands.
Another survivor said the brakes on the bus failed and the driver swerved to avoid hitting a lorry.
Meanwhile, the authorities denied early reports that the bus was overloaded or was blacklisted because of outstanding summons.
At a press conference on Thursday, Malaysian acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said it was too early to draw conclusions and promised a thorough investigation.
The 37 who died included six foreigners. The bus was carrying 53 people when it tumbled into a 60m ravine on Wednesday afternoon. The driver, Lim Kok Hoe, 44, was also killed.
"One of the other patients told me the driver was quarrelling with (the driver of) another car," said Rafigh Hassan, a Bangladeshi tourist whose brother-in-law Rafique Ali Bhuiyal Buchu, 60, died in the accident.
"He seemed to lose control of the bus, hit another car and went off the cliff," he told media outside the mortuary on Thursday before claiming the body. Four other family members were in critical but stable condition, he said.
Suriardi Budiarto, 52, a passenger who was flung from the bus, told The Star that its brakes seemed to have failed.
"It kept picking up speed and everyone was screaming," he said. "There was a lorry in front, and the driver had to swerve to avoid it and lost control."
Ong Cheng Hoe, 54, the bus driver's brother-in-law, was at the hospital early on Thursday to claim the body. He said Lim had worked six years as a bus driver in Singapore before he was hired by Genting Highlands Transport two months ago.
"He is a disciplined driver and very experienced," he told reporters. He said Lim did not have a hot temper.
A spokesman for Genting Highlands Transport told Malaysian daily New Straits Times that the bus had undergone routine inspections.
Syed Hamid Albar, who heads the Malaysian public transport regulator, said the bus' licence allowed it to carry up to 65 passengers, with 45 seated and 20 standing.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a condolence letter to Malaysian Premier Najib Razak, said he was "deeply saddened" that so many lives were lost.
"I wish the injured a full and speedy recovery," he wrote.
Malaysia, with a population of 29 million, has one of the region's highest road fatality rates at 25 per 100,000 people. Thailand's is 38.1, Indonesia 17.7, the Philippines 9.1 and Singapore 5.1, according to the World Health Organisation.
In 2010, a double-decker bus overturned and killed 28 passengers on the way down from Cameron Highlands. Last year, a bus carrying 24 Indian tourists overturned on the stretch in Genting Highlands where Wednesday's accident occurred, killing two and injuring more than a dozen.
As of 6pm Thursday, relatives had claimed 14 of the 37 who died in the latest tragedy. Of the 16 survivors, six were in critical but stable condition, hospital officials said.
"We were going home to Bangladesh tomorrow," said Faridah Yasmin, 50, of her brother-in-law, Rafique, who died in the crash. "Now, I don't know how to face our family at home."