Forty-five passengers were charred to death as a private luxury bus burst into flames after its fuel tank caught fire in Mahbubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh early on Wednesday.
"Charred bodies of 45 persons have been retrieved from the bus," Deputy Inspector General (Hyderabad Range) V Naveen Chand said.
The accident occurred at 5.10 am when the diesel tank of the Hyderabad-bound bus from Bangalore hit against a culvert near Palem in Mahabubnagar, around 140 kms from Hyderabad on NH-44 (Bangalore-Hyderabad), police said, adding the entire bus was engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes.
Fifty-two persons, including 50 passengers, were travelling in the Volvo bus when the mishap occurred. Initial reports had said that some software engineers were among the victims.
The bodies have been burnt beyond recognition and it is difficult to ascertain how many of the dead are men or women, Chand said.
Five passengers, the driver Feroze Khan and cleaner Ayyaz, managed to escape with burn injuries and were undergoing treatment at different hospitals, another police officer said.
Mahabubnagar District Collector Girija Shankar and District SP D Nagendra Kumar, who were supervising the rescue operation said, "The identification of the deceased will be determined after conducting DNA tests and collecting blood samples of the relatives.
"The mortal remains will be handed over the kin of the deceased after the DNA tests," the Collector said.
A team of doctors from Gandhi Hospital and Osmania General Hospital and forensic experts from Hyderabad rushed to the spot to conduct post-mortem of the bodies.
The bus started from Bangalore at 11 PM last night.
"It seems the bus was travelling at a high speed when its fuel tank hit the roadside culvert and caught fire and got burst.The passengers in the bus were burnt beyond recognition.The entire bus has been gutted," Wanaparthy DSP Srinivas Reddy said.
Police said they had collected the list of passengers from the private bus operators and found that the online booking list had names of 33 bus-passengers and other travellers may have boarded the bus later.
A bus passenger, who survived the accident, and is undergoing treatment at a hospital, said, "All passengers were sleeping when the bus caught fire.Some of us tried to break open the window glass, however, we were unable to do so.I immediately moved towards the emergency (exit) window and broke it and managed to jump out of the bus." According to the cleaner of the bus, most of the passengers were sleeping when the accident took place.The cleaner, who has been admitted to a hospital in Hyderabad, said he was pulled out of the burning bus by the driver of a car passing through the area.
An eye-witness said he saw the bus going in flames at around 5.15 AM and within 30 minutes it was reduced to ashes.
Meanwhile, worried relatives rushed to the office of the bus operator in Lakdi-Ka-Pul area in Hyderabad to collect information.
"When we enquired no details are being given.We are worried. There is no clarity here. They are still collecting the list from their Bangalore office," some of the relatives said.
Distraught relatives of the victims, many of whom were from Bangalore, gathered at the bus operator, Jabbar Travels office here, seeking information about their dear ones.
Jabbar Travels claimed there was no problem regarding the fitness of the vehicle and they had all the valid documents.
"We have the valid permit, fitness certificate and insurance and the bus was being serviced every 25,000 km", Jamil Jabbar from the transport operator's family told reporters.
Karnataka Transport Commissioner K Amarnarayana said the bus had fitness certificate till October 6, 2014, and also insurance and permit.
Helpline opened for Andhra bus fire
Mahabubnagar district police in Andhra Pradesh have opened a helpline to provide information about the mishap in which 40 passengers of a private bus coming to Hyderabad from Bangalore were killed after the bus caught fire early Wednesday.
Following are the helpline numbers: 9494600100, 08542-245927, 245930, 245932.