SWIFT RESPONSE: Injured passengers airlifted by copters to trauma centres
GENTING HIGHLANDS: THIRTY-SEVEN people were killed yesterday when a bus overloaded with passengers plunged into a deep ravine in the hill resort of Genting Highlands in one of the country's worst bus crashes in recent years.
Another 16 people were injured, some critically, in the accident that has prompted a high-level probe and sparked fresh concerns over the safety of buses on Malaysian roads.
Survivors said the driver, said to be just two months on the job, was negotiating a sharp bend at Km3.5 Jalan Genting, when he lost control of the bus. It then ploughed into a concrete barrier and rolled down the ravine.
Some of the passengers in the stage bus, which was headed for Kuala Lumpur, were flung out as it tumbled 60m down the slope in the 2.22pm accident. The bus left the peak at 2pm.
The dead, including the driver, identified as Lim Kok Ho, 44, were found at different sections of the slope, with some in and near the wreckage.
Search and rescue personnel, who arrived at 3.38pm, tended to the critically injured, with the help of doctors who set up a triage system to aid the survivors.
They were sent to Sungai Buloh, Bentong, Selayang and Kuala Lumpur Hospitals, all in under two hours of the tragedy.
Some were airlifted by helicopters to trauma centres.
The 16 injured included local holidaymakers, as well as Thais and Bangladeshis.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his deputy, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, extended their sympathy and condolences to the victims and their families.
Muhyiddin also ordered the relevant agencies to step up enforcement along the stretch where the accident took place.
Sultan of Pahang Sultan Ahmad Shah, who arrived at the location at 6.40pm, said he was saddened by the tragedy.
Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob also visited the accident site.
Witnesses said when the bus finally rolled to a stop, passengers, who were not badly injured, picked themselves up and climbed out of the bus.
Rescuers had to stabilise the bus with cables before they were able to get to the injured. The initial fear was that the bus would roll further down another 150m if it was not secured.
As the search for bodies continued well into the night, rescuers who were working in the rain, discovered more bodies than was initially reported. Earlier, the authorities were looking for 48 passengers onboard the ill-fated bus, based on information provided to them. They later found 52 passengers and the driver.
Kuala Lumpur Fire and Rescue Department chief Azizan Ismail, who headed the search and rescue operations, said some of the passengers could have boarded without tickets.
Azizan said the trees and undergrowth had slowed down the momentum of the bus as it rolled down the ravine. Had that not been the case, it would have plunged down another 70m.
The 450 rescue personnel from various agencies erected floodlights as the night wore on and used cranes and jerry-rigged a bucket recovery system to haul up the survivors and the dead. They could only bring up two victims at one time.
The police canine unit was also sent out to locate victims in the thick undergrowth that rescuers could have missed.
The last body was brought up at 8pm and was laid down next to the 15 bodies that had been recovered earlier, under a makeshift tent.
The scene at Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL) was that of chaos as doctors and nurses were on standby to receive the survivors as worried families inquired if their loved ones were among those expected to be wheeled in.
The first of the injured, Wong Teraphong, 63, arrived in an ambulance at 5pm. The Thai national, who was critically injured, also suffered a heart attack in the incident.
HKL Emergency and Trauma Department chief Datuk Seri Dr Abu Hassan Asaari Abdullah said this was the worst case he had handled in his 20 years of service at the hospital.
All the bodies were sent to HKL for post-mortem.
He said the first group of 10 bodies arrived at the hospital at 7.50pm. Two more came in more than an hour later. The last body arrived at HKL at 10.30pm.
As at press time, families are waiting anxiously for the hospitals to issue a list of the dead.
Doctors managed to stabilise all the critical patients.
Ahmad Sharudin Saidin, 53 who was at the hospital, said his heart sank when he heard his daughter Nurmaizatul Syazana crying over the phone, telling him that she had been involved in a crash and had broken her leg.
"I was shocked. She told me she had been in an accident. She was crying in pain over the phone.
"I am grateful that she is alive," he said, adding that his second child had been on holiday in Genting with a friend since Sunday.
Those admitted to hospitals are (at press time):
1. Nur Syamimi Ja’afar, 25 (F) Malaysian
2. Nur Fathiah Ja’afer, 21 (F) Nur Syamimi’s sister
3. Nurul Quraitul Aini, 19 (F) Malaysian
4. Andri Purwaidi, 25 (F) Indonesian
5. Nur Fridil Gusman, 32 (M) Indonesian
6. Raawnok Arefin, 14 (M) Bangladeshi
7. Rezyan Arefin, 24 (M) Raawnok’s brother
8. Rashidah Buyah, 50 (F) Bangladeshi
Kuala Lumpur Hospital
1. Wong Teraphong, 63, (M) Thailand
2. Saidah, 19, (F) Malaysian
3. Razif, 26, (M) Malaysian
4. S.E. Ali Haider Shyed Haider, 46 (M) — Bangladeshi
5. Tan Min Shing, 26, (M) Malaysian
1. Suriadi Budiarto, 52, (M) Indonesian
Sungai Buloh Hospital
1. Nur Maizatul Syazana Ahmad Sharudin, 23, (F) Malaysian
2. Unidentified, 60, (M) Korean