President Droupadi Murmu (left), people pay tribute to children and teacher killed in the accident (right). Photo: PTI, TK Pradeep Kumar/ Mathrubhumi
Palakkad: Five students, who joyously left with their schoolmates for a trip to Ooty a day ago, returned lifeless to the school on Thursday afternoon after the tourist bus they were travelling in met with an accident that claimed nine lives at Vadakkencherry in Palakkad district due to being driven at a high speed.
Besides them, the accident also claimed the lives of four others, a teacher who was travelling with the students and three others who were in the KSRTC bus into which the tourist vehicle had rammed into at a speed of 97 km per hour when it attempted to overtake a car.
Parents, whose children went on the trip, told mediapersons that they had told the bus driver to drive carefully, but he drove at a speed close to 100 km per hour which led to the tragedy.
Even State Transport Minister Antony Raju said preliminary reports indicated that the accident occurred due to speeding above limits and negligence of the driver.
The errant bus driver, who had allegedly escaped from the hospital after receiving first aid, was caught from Kollam by officers of the Chavara police station and handed over to a team from Vadakkencherry police station, police said.
An officer of Chavara police station said the driver was on his way to Thiruvananthapuram along with some friends to meet a lawyer with regard to filing an anticipatory bail plea when he was caught based on mobile tracking information received from Vadakkencherry police station.
The Transport Commissioner said the bus was blacklisted by Kottayam RTO, where it was registered, for violating various motor vehicle rules in the past.
Meanwhile, a huge crowd comprising students, friends, relatives, neighbours and locals of Mulanthuruthy area of Ernakulam from where the victims hailed arrived at the Baselios Vidyanikethan Senior Secondary School in Ernakulam to see the bodies of the five children and one of their teachers who died in the accident on Wednesday night.
President Droupadi Murmu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan expressed grief at the loss of lives due to the accident.
"I feel extremely sad to know about a heart-wrenching tragedy in Palakkad, Kerala, where we have lost precious lives of school children and others. My heartfelt condolences to bereaved families. I pray for speedy recovery of the injured," Murmu tweeted.
The Prime Minister's Office tweeted, "PM @narendramodi has expressed grief at the loss of lives due to an accident in Kerala's Palakkad district. He extends condolences to the bereaved families and prays for a quick recovery of the injured. Rs 2 lakh from PMNRF would be given to the next of kin of each deceased. The injured would be given Rs 50,000."
The Kerala Raj Bhavan said that Khan was shocked to hear about the loss of lives and he has extended his condolences.
"Governor Shri Arif Mohammed Khan said: "Shocked to know of the tragic death of 9 people including 5 schoolchildren in the bus mishap on Walayar-Vadakkancherry highway. My heartfelt condolences. May God help the bereaved families to overcome the grief," the Kerala Raj Bhavan tweeted.
Besides them, Kerala Assembly Speaker A N Shamseer, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Leader of Opposition in the state assembly V D Satheesan also condoled the deaths.
It was a heart-wrenching scene at the school campus as the bodies arrived there one after another in ambulances when all of them were to return from the trip on Saturday.
Parents of children, aged between 15 and 17 years, who died in the accident could be seen crying, inconsolable, for the loss they suffered.
Similar scenes were seen at the homes of the others who died in the accident in which over 40 people were also injured.
The last rites of some of the deceased are expected to be conducted during the day and of the others on Friday.
The KSRTC bus was going from Kottarakkara in Kerala to Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and had 81 passengers.
The tourist bus had started from the Baselios Vidyanikethan Senior Secondary School in Ernakulam at around 7 PM on Wednesday with 42 students and five teachers for a pleasure trip to Ooty in Tamil Nadu.