Double tragedy averted

2013-05-21 00:00

A DOUBLE tragedy was narrowly averted yesterday when a school bus carrying dozens of children crashed and a rescue chopper was forced into an emergency landing.

The drama at Taylor’s Halt left 46 pupils injured, four of whom were struck by the bus as it hurtled backwards down a hill and overturned, stopping perilously close to a river.

More drama was to come when a medical helicopter summoned to airlift some of the patients crashed into power lines, forcing it to land.

Bus driver Muzi Mbanjwa of Entokozweni Special School in Sweetwaters said he did everything he could to avoid the worst.

He said the brakes failed and the bus reversed 100 metres, knocking into four pupils who were walking to school. The bus overturned on a river bank, metres from the water.

Mbanjwa told The Witness he had just picked up pupils and as he took off, the brakes failed.

“Everything happened so fast. The bus just reversed uncontrollably down the road. I used a rear-view mirror to stop the bus plunging into the river. The bus knocked into other pupils who were walking along the road and into two poles on the bridge before it overturned.”

The bus was collecting pupils from the Dindi area.

Resident Sandile Bhengu, who was waiting for a taxi to go to work, said he saw the bus reversing towards the river bed and rushed to help, joined by other bystanders.

They pulled pupils out of the bus, fearing that it could plunge into the river.

“We had to break windows and pull them out. Inside the bus the pupils were screaming for help, some pushing others to the front of the bus. Some children wanted to exit from the windscreen without realising they could fall into the river,” said Bhengu.

Another resident, Joyce Madonda, said the children were confused. “When most of the children came out of the bus, they were running so fast as if they were running from something they had never seen before,” Madonda said.

“But we tried to catch them and sat them down.”

The children were too traumatised even to give their names.

Madonda said that the children were wailing and some, physically disabled, struggled on crutches.

Paramedics assessed the children and found they all had sustained various injuries.

ER24 spokesperson Derrick Banks said one child was in a critical condition after sustaining a head injury and possible neck and back injuries and was airlifted to Grey’s Hospital.

Others were taken to various hospitals and treated for shock and injuries from minor to moderate.

But as the helicopter took off, it flew into power lines, which snapped and fell among the onlookers.

No one was injured, but the helicopter made an emergency landing to ensure everything was fine.

Ryan Horseman, director of Halo Aviation, which partnered with the ER24 helicopter, said: “After the take-off coming out of the valley, the sun was in the pilot’s face. So, he did not see the wires in front of him. The helicopter encountered the wires. The wire cutters on the helicopter cut the wires. The pilot then made an emergency landing to check that everything was okay.”

Fakazile Makhathini of Taylor’s Halt, a mother of one of the children struck by the bus, said she was thankful the accident did not claim a life.

“We thank God. It was not as bad an accident as we expected it to be when we were phoned,” said Makhathini.

Entokozweni principal Thandi Shezi said she was still in a state of shock and declined to comment.

Education MEC Senzo Mchunu cautioned all drivers to be extra careful on the roads.

Sad history: scores of pupils die

August 2011: Thirteen schoolchildren were treated for minor injuries at Edendale Hospital after the bakkie they were travelling in collided with a taxi, veered off the road and landed in a ditch on Morcom Road.

August 2012: Two pupils from Nkabini Primary school died after the car they were travelling in failed to stop at a stop sign and ploughed into a bus on Bulwer Road.

August 2012: Ten pupils from Donnybrook Primary and Blessed Luanda Primary schools died after their bakkie lost control. The driver also died.

September 2012: Ten primary pupils from Okhombe Primary school were killed near Bergville while travelling home at about 7 pm from a sports outing. At the time Education MEC Senzo Mchunu banned long-distance school trips.

September 2012: A bus full of teenagers returning from an outing to Inanda plunged 150 metres down a cliff, killing four children and leaving dozens badly injured.

April 2013: Eight pupils of Zamimpilo Special School died when a bus they were travelling in crashed in kwaCeza near Ulundi.

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