IANS

The Regional Transport Office (Amravati) has ruled out a tyre-burst or speeding as the cause of the grisly passenger bus accident on the Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway which has claimed 26 lives so far, plus injuring seven others, here on Saturday.

In its preliminary report submitted to the government, the RTO has not hinted at any probable causes for the major crash – which the police are probing - as the air conditioned sleeper coach had a fitness certificate valid till March 2024.

The RTO said that the ill-fated bus, built by Ashok Leyland Ltd, was registered in January 2020 and held a valid permit till 2025.

Earlier on Saturday, the proprietor of Vidarbha Travels company, Virendra Darne, who owned the ill-fated bus, said that the three-year-old vehicle was grounded for a year due to lockdown, and the driver Danish Shaikh – who has been arrested and charged with ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’ - was an experienced one.

However, possibly due to the presence of flammable items in the bus, it caught fire, claimed Darne, and the bus had 27 passengers as per the manifest with the company.

Recounting the sequence of events leading to the horrific dance of death on the expressway, the RTO report added that the bus had departed from Nagpur to Pune, at 5 p.m. on Friday.

Shortly after 11 p.m., the bus entered the expressway at Karanja interchange and after some 152 kms, met with the accident around 1.32 a.m., at Sindhkhed Raja.

As per the account of an eyewitness and injured passenger, the bus had dashed into an electric pole on the right hand side of the expressway, and the driver Shaikh lost control of his steering.

The bus crashed further into the divider to the right with the front right tyre and the impact was so great that the front axle dislocated from the bus chassis.

This caused the bus to again dash against the divider and the vehicle body sliced through the diesel tank, and as the front axle had broken the front portion of the bus banged onto the cement road.

This friction of the metal grazing on the road caused an inferno as the engine oil temperature was also high as the bus had been running for several hours.

The sleeping passengers, who got rudely jolted out of their slumber, were engulfed in the flames, leading to 26 deaths at the dead of the night on the desolate expressway.

 The bus then overturned to the left hand side which blocked the passenger door, due to the impact of the overturning the vehicle became misaligned and jammed the rear emergency exit, thus trapping the passengers to their death.

The RTO probe dismissed the tyre-burst theory, put forth by the bus owner, saying that there is no evidence in the form of pieces of rubber on the road and the impact marking is visible on the bent right side front wheel disc.

It has also ruled out speeding as a cause as the bus got onto the expressway at 11 p.m. from the Karanja interchange, and the accident took place after 2 hours 24 minutes at a distance of 152 kms, meaning the bus was running at an average speed of 70 kmph.

The accident has sparked outrage in the state with top political leaders slamming the state government for not taking measures to stop the series of accidents on the expressway.

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