Taipei, Taiwan, Feb 13 – A Taiwan bus taking elderly local tourists home from visiting seasonal cherry blossoms careered off a highway Monday night leaving 32 dead, in the island’s worst road accident in decades.
It comes after a bus inferno in July last year killed 25 Chinese holidaymakers on board, and is the latest in a series of deadly incidents that have tarnished Taiwan’s safety record.
The Taiwanese passengers had been returning from a trip to a farm in the central region of Taichung when the bus veered off the motorway in the capital Taipei.
Local media said the top of the bus had been torn off and its occupants tossed onto the roadside.
Dashcam footage reported to be from a vehicle behind the bus showed it heading towards a bend in the road then disappearing off the edge of the highway.
Police are investigating whether the bus was speeding at the time, according to reports.
The national fire agency said 32 people had been killed, with 12 still being treated in hospital, most with serious injuries.
Taiwan’s Central News Agency said it was the worst road accident for 30 years.
“The passengers are all Taiwanese and mostly older people,” said Chen Chih-min from Taipei City fire department, which confirmed the crashed vehicle was a sightseeing tour bus.
The bus carrying 44 people was left flipped over on the side of the road and around 100 rescuers rushed to the scene.
Victims’ bodies were laid out at the crash site covered in white and blue cloths, and two cranes attempted to lift the toppled bus.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and Premier Lin Chuan gave their condolences.
Tsai said authorities must “make all efforts to save the injured people and properly handle the aftermath”.
– Safety questions –
The bus was reported to be 19 years old and belonged to an agency that runs tours across Taiwan.
Responding to speculation about the condition of the bus and whether it was speeding, Taipei Deputy Mayor Teng Chia-chi said police were investigating and would “report when the cause is clarified”.
Teng confirmed the passengers had been visiting Wuling Farm in Taichung, which is famous for cherry blossoms at this time of year.
It is the worst highway accident since 1986, when a bus fell into a river in central Taiwan, killing 42, CNA reported.
An investigation into last year’s fatal bus inferno outside Taipei found the driver had intentionally set fire to it in a suicide bid before it veered into a crash barrier.
The incident prompted Chinese authorities to demand the island take measures to improve safety for mainland visitors.
Several fatal incidents in Taiwan in the past two years have triggered safety probes.
In February 2015 a TransAsia plane crashed into a river in Taipei, killing 43 on board — including 28 mainland Chinese tourists. A report by investigators confirmed the pilot had shut down the wrong engine after the other one failed.
In June 2015 coloured corn starch sprayed over crowds at a water park party near Taipei ignited due to the heat of stage lights, killing 15 and injuring more than 500. The organiser of the event was jailed for negligence.
The collapse of a residential block during an earthquake in the southern city of Tainan in February last year, which left 115 dead, also led to an investigation which showed builders had cut corners.