Bangalore: Seven passengers were burnt to death and 25 injured early Thursday when a luxury bus headed to Mumbai caught fire after ramming into the railing of a bridge in Karnataka, a police official said.

The horrific accident took place around 2.45 a.m. on the National Highway (NH 4) near Haveri town, about 330 km from Bangalore.

“The private bus, which was on its way to Mumbai from Bangalore, crashed into the railing of a bridge at high speed and caught fire as its fuel tank cracked,” Haveri Superintendent of Police M. Shashi Kumar told IANS.

This accident comes close on the heels of the Oct 30 Andhra Pradesh tragedy when 45 passengers perished when a similar private-run luxury bus burst out in flames at Mahbubnagar.

On Thursday, 43 men, six women and a girl child were onboard the ill-fated Karnataka private bus, operated by the Bangalore-based Nationals Travels.

The bus left this city late Wednesday after picking up passengers from seven boarding points. It was scheduled to reach Mumbai Thursday afternoon.

“We are yet to identify the victims as their bodies are burnt beyond recognition. An autopsy and DNA test will be conducted to identify the bodies…,” Kumar said.

Six of the 25 injured were taken to a state-run hospital at Hubli, 50 km from Haveri town, as their condition was critical. The remaining injured were treated in a hospital at Haveri for minor burns.

Most of the passengers were asleep when the fire broke out. All the survivors escaped by smashing the emergency exit window and jumping out from the burning bus.

State Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy rushed to the spot.

“Overspeeding appears to the cause of the accident. We are ordering a probe to ascertain the reason though the driver could be at fault to drive so recklessly,” Reddy told reporters.

The bus operator announced Rs.5 lakh compensation each to the victims’ kin after Chief Minister Siddaramaiah declared Rs.1 lakh ex-gratia to the relatives.

“The state government will bear the expenses incurred for treating the injured,” Siddaramaiah told reporters here after ordering an inquiry.

The transport department also arranged a bus to ferry about 20 of the stranded passengers to Mumbai after some of the injured were discharged from the hospital.

“Seven passengers, who escaped with minor injuries, have decided to return to Bangalore instead of going on to Mumbai as their baggage was also gutted in the bus,” Kumar said.

Among the passengers were two foreign nationals, including one from South Africa. Police are scanning the passengers’ list to verify the second foreigner’s nationality.

Zameer Ahmed Khan, opposition Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) lawmaker from Bangalore, was one of the partners in the bus travel company along with five brothers.

“The Volvo-manufactured bus was brand new as it was inducted about 40 days ago and has been operating on the Bangalore-Mumbai route with a valid permit, a fitness certificate and a third-party insurance cover,” Khan told reporters at Haveri.

Ever since the Oct 30 bus fire took place, the state transport department has intensified checks on all state-run and private buses operating on intra-state and inter-state routes.

Source: IANS