HYDERABAD, INDIA – A speeding bus exploded in a ball of flame after crashing into the central reservation on a southern Indian highway early Wednesday, killing at least 44 passengers as they slept.
Only five people on the vehicle escaped the inferno, including the driver and the cleaner who broke windows and fled before the fuel tank exploded, police said.
“The number of dead, which includes children, is 44,” said local police spokesman Venkateshwarlu, who uses only one name.
Fatalities were high even by deadly Indian standards, where bus crashes, particularly on the treacherous roads of the northern Himalayas, are common.
Venkateshwarlu said the driver and cleaner had tried to flee the scene of the accident, which occurred around 5 a.m. between Bangalore and Hyderabad. “The police caught them and they are now in our custody for questioning,” he said.
Relatives of the victims screamed and broke down in tears outside the office of the bus operator in Hyderabad, 140 km from the crash site. Police arrived later to question the owners of Jabbar Travels, which serves cities across the nation’s south.