MEYERTON, SOUTH AFRICA (BNO NEWS) — A passenger bus plunged off a bridge south of Johannesburg in South Africa on Monday, killing nineteen people and injuring more than 50 others, emergency officials said. Witnesses believe the driver was speeding.
The accident occurred on Monday morning in the small town of Meyerton, located in the Sediben Distict of Gauteng Province, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) south of Johannesburg. The vehicle was carrying at least 74 people, although some reports said up to 85 people may have been on board.
ER24 paramedics spokeswoman Vanessa Jackson said the bus had just left the R59 highway when the driver lost control of the vehicle and slammed through the railing on a bridge. “The bus then crashed approximately 5 meters (16.4 feet) down, landing on its side in the muddy water below,” she said.
ER24 paramedics, Netcare 911 paramedics and a Midvaal Fire and Rescue team were among the agencies which were first to arrive at the scene. They immediately started work to determine the number of casualties. “This was a grueling task for all involved, as not only was the bus possibly lying on top of a number of the occupants, the mud was thick around the area that they needed to work in,” Jackson added.
Netcare 911 spokesman Jeffrey Wicks said nineteen people were killed and 55 others were injured, including three people who were in a critical condition, 18 people who were seriously injured, and 33 people with minor injuries. Two of the three critically injured patients were airlifted to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.
Jackson said fourteen people were initially confirmed to have died, but the remains of five more victims were later found underneath the wreckage of the bus, raising the death toll to nineteen. “The bus was lifted from the scene and police rescue divers waded through the muddy water to ensure that all of those injured or deceased had been recovered,” she said.
Among those killed is the bus driver, who witnesses said was speeding and failed to slow down when he took the turn-off to the bridge. “The bus driver did not slow down when he took the turn to the bridge. He was speeding and lost control,” survivor Elizabeth Xaba told the Beeld newspaper on Tuesday.
Cabinet spokesman Jimmy Manyi expressed condolences on behalf of the South African government and thanked rescue workers for their work. “[The] government is deeply saddened by this incident,” he said. “Our prayers and thoughts are with families of the passengers that were onboard the Putco bus that plummeted off a bridge in the Vaal Triangle.”
Transport Minister Ben Martins, who visited the scene of the accident and spoke with victims at Kopanong and Sebokeng hospitals, instructed transport authorities to investigate the cause. “There are no words to describe the shock with which we received the sad and unfortunate reports of this tragic end to lives,” he said. “We wish to convey our sincere condolences to the families of passengers who lost their lives, wishing survivors a speedy recovery.”
The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), an agency of the Department of Transport, dispatched a team of road crash and incident reconstruction specialists to the scene. The department also called on the company operating the bus to work with authorities in order to expedite the investigation.
“No effort should be spared in determining the cause of this horrific incident. Road Traffic management authorities must leave no stone unturned in their probe,” Martins said. “Motorists must exercise great caution at all times on the roads. They should remember that adherence to the rules of the road is non-negotiable.”
Despite good infrastructure, roads in South Africa are considered to be among the world’s most dangerous, with more than 13,000 people killed every year. Many accidents are attributed to reckless driving and the poor maintenance of buses and taxis.