Passengers had also boarded from Wardha and Yavatmal, after which the bus had entered the Samruddhi expressway at Karanja (Lad) at 11.08 pm, accord to the toll booth time stamp. It had 27 passengers and six crew, including two drivers.
A report by the Amravati Regional Transport Office (RTO) said the bus was likely travelling at 70 kmph as it took 2.24 hours to travel 152 km to reach the spot where the accident occurred. The bus is learnt to have rammed a pole on the righthand side, then hit the median divider on the same side. This ripped the front axle from the chassis, and the bus fell over onto its left side. This blocked the main exit for any passengers trying to get out.
Hitting the divider had also damaged the diesel tank, spilling fuel as the bus slid on its side for some distance. The sparks from the sliding bus set the fuel ablaze and the entire bus was engulfed in flames in minutes. The bus’s engine oil sump, too, caught fire after hitting the road. Eight people on the bus, including the driver, managed to escape the inferno and are recuperating at different hospitals.
Bus driver Shaikh Danish said in his statement that the accident took place as the right-side tyre burst. He, along with cleaner and second driver Sandeep Rathod, are in a government hospital at Deulgaon Raja.
They have been taken into custody by the Sindkhed Raja police. Another driver, who was asleep on the last seat, is among those killed.
RTO experts have ruled out the tyre-burst theory, stating there were no burnt pieces of tyre or rupture marks, or even skid marks, on the road. The regional transport office has said the fitness certificate of the vehicle was valid till March next year, and it also had a speed governor.
The bus owner has said in a media interview that the bus was only three years old and standing for one year during Covid. He also said the driver (Danish) was experienced.
Though some documents said the bus pollution control certificate was not updated, the owner claimed all vehicle documents were up to date. Buldhana SP Sunil Kadasne said the driver (Danish) blamed the accident on a tyre burst but it did not seem to be the case.
“The driver likely was dizzy or fell asleep,” said Kadasne. Yogesh Gawai, one of the injured who spoke to the media, said he had boarded the bus from Nagpur.
“Some of us crawled out of the window after breaking the glass after the bus fell on its side. I had pulled out one more person. Shortly afterwards, the bus caught fire and exploded,” Gawai said from a hospital at Buldhana. He said the police and fire brigade arrived within 10-15 minutes but it was too late to save anyone else.
Nagpur SP (highway security police, or HSP) Yeshwant Solanke said, his team from an assistance booth, around 10km away, had arrived along with the fire brigade shortly after being alerted by passers-by.
“The bus was gutted within 20 minutes, charring the occupants trapped inside. We got no chance to rescue anyone,” said Solanke.