(3 March) The community of Baan Mai Samakkhee Tham in Nakhon Ratchasima are still reeling from the horrific school bus accident which has killed at least 15 people.
A tour bus was shuttling a large group of students and staff from a school in the community to their field trip in Pattaya when its driver reportedly lost control, slammed into an 18-wheeler truck, and slid off the road in Prachinburi province on Friday′s early morning.
The dead were identified as 10 students, 2 teachers, 2 teachers′ children, and a husband of a teacher. 25 people were also injured in the accident – the worst in many weeks in Thailand, where public transport has poor safety records.
All of the schoolchildren killed in the accident were younger than 14 year old.
Mr. Wandanai Khakhong, director of Baan Dong Lob School, said bodies of the 9 victims killed in the accident are currently housed at Wat Mai Samakkhee Tham Temple for funeral ceremonies.
The temple has hired an additional mobile crematorium to cremate the dead, as the temple′s facility cannot process the ceremony in time, Mr. Wandanai said.
He said parents of the dead schoolchildren are still in distress, as many of them are from poor backgrounds and had only one child. "They have lost their children, who were the only hope of their households," Mr. Wandanai said, "They have lost spirit to live their lives".
The school director added that those who wish to donate to the families of the victims could do so by sending their money to account number 152-740-839-502 of the Government Saving Bank (GSB) or contact the school district at 04-447-7014.
As two of the dead were teachers, Mr. Wandanai said, Baan Dong Lob School is now lacking teachers, and it has requested temporary teachers from a nearby school to head the classes once the school reopens.
Mr. Som-Art Tangcharoen, MD, director of Maharaj Nakhon Ratchasima Hospital, told our correspondent that 6 schoolchildren are still under intensive care due to their severe injuries. However, he described their conditions as "stable".
Meanwhile, the authorities are contemplating permanent improvements to the road where the accident took place to prevent further tragedy.
The school bus was reportedly descending a bending slope on Khao Tone Hill when the driver lost control of the vehicle.
The mountainous slope, covering 43-44 km marks, runs across a steep forested hill and is flanked by deep valleys. The road was also dotted with dangerous bends along the mountain.
Records provided by land transport agencies in Prachinburi province indicate that 100 people have been killed and 500 injured by road accidents on the particular slope since 2007, said Mr. Sarawut Songsivilai, deputy director of Department of Highways.
The department has already hired a team of experts to inspect the area and draft recommendations to improve the road safety, Mr. Sarawut said, while locals in Prachinburi would also be consulted about the plan by the authorities.
He estimated that a construction plan worth 2.9 billion baht might be needed to improve the notorious road. The plan includes extending the road to 4 lanes, separating opposing lanes with concrete slabs, constructing special lane for trucks, and adding devices to slow down the vehicles on the descending slope.
The engineers would also install reinforcing structures along the road to prevent any soil erosion in the future, Mr. Sarawut said.
"I′m sure the plan will be able to sufficiently accommodate the traffic in the next 50 years," Mr. Sarawut told our correspondent, adding that the construction would aim to disturb the local wildlife in the area as little as possible, as the route runs close to several National Parks.
The department is now waiting for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to approve the plan, according to Mr. Sarawut.
On the same day, police said Mr. Somphong Saebe, the driver of the doomed school bus, has finally turned himself in at a police station in Prachinburi. Mr. Somphong initially fled the scene after the accident.
The police add that they will talk to the students, the teachers, and other witnesses for a criminal prosecution against Mr. Somphong.