‘I can’t forget horror image’

2015-08-19 13:08
Sihle Busane was aboard Metro Rail 0263 when it struck a taxi lying on the tracks, killing 15 people.

Sihle Busane was aboard Metro Rail 0263 when it struck a taxi lying on the tracks, killing 15 people. (Jonathan Erasmus )

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Durban - “When we got off the train, I saw two women in their forties and in a tight embrace. I couldn’t see their heads. They were dead. It must have been how they died, holding on to each other for life.”

Sihle Busane, 23, boarded the northbound Metro Rail 0263 at Durban Central at 15:00. He had been in Durban dropping off application forms at a police station. What he did not know was that he would soon witness a horror crash.

“It was about 4.20pm and we were at Shakashead when we heard a noise. I was with two other friends on the train. We were talking about our futures and starting work for the police service. We were discussing what we would do, the houses we would build and the cars we would buy. Then the train slowly ground to a halt. There was no impact or big jerk. The stopping of the train was normal, as if it was pulling up to a platform, except we weren’t.”

Instead, the driver had stopped because the train had smashed into a taxi carrying 21 passengers, which had veered over an embankment on to the rail track below.

“The inspector on board blew her whistle and ordered us off the train. She simply said we had hit something or someone. No register was taken of the passengers on board, nor was anyone asked if they were injured. But what we saw was something we definitely did not expect,” said Busane.

He said he stepped off the train to see the top of a human skull protruding from a body.

“There were pieces of human brain and body parts all over the place. Some bodies were still stuck inside the taxi. We kept on walking. We saw paramedics use what appeared to be defibrillator on one passenger, but he didn’t make it.

“I can’t seem to get the images out of my head.

“Some people’s heads looked compressed and mangled. Many of them were naked, just in their underwear. Others were charred. It looked like they had been burnt by electricity. There were bodies everywhere we looked. As passengers got off the train, many of the women began to sob as they saw the carnage in front of them.”

Busane said among all the trauma he saw one woman sitting upright and being treated.

“The first paramedics were on the scene within four minutes. Shortly thereafter the police arrived and cordoned off the area. Thirty minutes later my grandfather arrived to pick me up and take me home.”

The reverberations of the accident stretched from Shakashead to Stanger, connected by the R102.

All trains were then ordered to stop at Compensation, with passengers having to catch buses and taxis, or find lifts home.

Prasa employees said the 0263 was moved late on Monday evening to Shakashead station. The front grill, placed inside a carriage, was badly bent while the red paint of the taxi was etched on the side of one carriage, and one train door damaged in the accident lay inside on the carriage floor.

Transnet Rail, which owns the railway infrastructure throughout the country, deployed several teams to the site. Some scoured the crash site while others inspected the train.

Inspectors said they were assessing liability although they believed the accident had little to do with the rail infrastructure.

'Miracle' survival

The survival of six passengers in the horror accident on Monday has been called an “absolute miracle”.

The KZN MEC for Transport Willies Mchunu on Tuesday said he was “shocked” to see three hospitalised patients in such good health.

“It is a miracle.”

He said the survivors had “minor injuries” with the most severe injury being dislocated toes.

“The two other patients only have bruises on their heads so they are just being monitored and are likely to undergo a scan. They were able sit up and talk to me,” said Mchunu.

On Monday, seven people were admitted to Stanger Hospital, medical manager Dr Gustavo Lopez said.

“One died from multiple injuries including head trauma while three have since been discharged. The remaining three are under observation,” said Lopez.

In total 16 people were killed when the minibus taxi lost control at an N2 off-ramp at Shakashead, North Coast, before plunging down a bank and landing on a railway line only to be hit by a passing train moments later.

Mchunu also met families of the deceased at KwaDukuza Municipal Hall on Tuesday afternoon.

A statement released by his office said initial reports indicate that the driver of the minibus taxi lost control. It said forensic experts have been sent to investigate the cause of the accident.

“I have also told the Department of Transport’s [DoT] engineering unit to check aspects of the scene.

“I still think people may have been saved if there was a more solid barrier [dividing the road from the embankment leading to the railway line].”

He said they would assist with funeral arrangements and a memorial service and would ask the Department of Social Development to see if the families need financial assistance.

“I am told this is the third accident at the same scene. I have also been told there is massive congestion at the Shakashead intersection during peak hours. If we need to widen the road for instance, it must be done,” said Mchunu.

KwaDukuza mayor Ricardo Mthembu said he was on the scene shortly after the accident and saw mutilated people.

“… We are going to work with the DoT as well as the taxi industry to educate [drivers] to comply with the laws,” he said.

Read more on:    durban  |  accidents

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