(28 February) At least 15 people, mostly young students, have been killed after their bus slammed into an 18-wheeler truck in Prachinburi province this morning.
Police said over 94 students and teachers from Dong-Lob School in Tamenchai district of Nakhon Ratchasima province were en route to Pattaya on their holiday school trip. Two buses carried the passengers, one for schoolboys and the other for schoolgirls, according to the police.
As the two buses descended down a bending slope of Khao Tone Hill on Kabinburi-Nakhon Ratchasima Road, the leading bus, which carried female school children, reportedly lost speed control and violently crashed into an 18-wheeler truck.
At least 11 people reportedly died at the scene, while 4 others succumbed to their injuries on their way to the hospitals. More than 40 people were also severely injured and have been sent to hospitals.
The fatalities include 11 schoolgirls, 2 teachers, a teacher′s child, and a teacher′s husband. Police reports suggest that most of the schoolchildren killed were less than 15 years of age.
Rescue workers warn that the number of deaths and injuries could rise.
The incident is one of the deadliest road accidents in Thailand so far this year – yet another tragic addition to Thailand′s poor record of road safety.
The police said they are investigating the incident, and a high-ranking police officer speculated that the crash might have been caused by a defunct brake on the school bus.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is visiting Chiang Mai province, later convened a meeting via teleconference with a number of officials to discuss the deadly accident.
Speaking to Ms. Yingluck, Transport Minister Chatchart Sittipan said he was horrified to learn that the bus left Nakhon Ratchasima in the early hours of 03.00-04.00, which contributed to likely chance of accident.
"The buses should have left in the morning so they could be safer on the road," Mr. Chatchart said.
Furthermore, Mr. Chatchart said, the driver of the bus involved in the accident was not authorised to drive for schoolchildren, as he only possessed a driving license for personal cars. The Transport Minister assured the Prime Minister that he will instruct the Department of Land Transport to investigate the matter and prosecute the bus company.
Media reports identified the company as Si Anong Tour.
Mr. Chatchart added that the 304 Route, where the horrific accident took place, has a notorious records of road fatalities. According to Mr. Chatchart, at least 5 people have been killed on that route in the past week alone.
He suggested to Ms. Yingluck that the Department of Land Transport should be authorised to add 2 more lanes to the entire stretch of the road, which would ease congestion and accommodate industrial-sized vehicles. Nevertheless, Mr. Chatchart warned that the construction might come under stiff resistance from environmentalist groups, as 304 Route runs across Khao Yai National Park.
Ms. Jittra Promchutima, Governor of Prachinburi province, also told the meeting that many of the wounded schoolchildren have been traumatised by the incident, and she has dispatched psychiatrists to talk with the youngsters at hospitals.
"There are some children who are not yet aware that their parents have been killed in the accident," Ms. Jittra said, "The doctors didn′t dare tell them".