A preliminary investigation has been conducted on the tragic tour bus fire that killed 26 people in Taiwan on Tuesday, including 24 tourists from the mainland. The latest findings indicate that the emergency exit might have been locked due to anti-theft modifications
Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA) quotes an unspecified professional in the traffic industry as saying that tour bus emergency exits are often equipped with anti-theft bolts that prevent the door from being opened from either side unless it is manually disabled from inside the bus.
Reporters from EBC News had a manager of a tour bus agency test an emergency door of the same model. The manager took 20 seconds to successfully open the door, making it very questionable that the door would have been opened in an emergency situation, especially with passengers’ vision blurred by smoke.
Because tourist bus drivers have to cover the loss for passengers’ belongings, theft cases in the past have prompted many bus owners to modify the emergency exits against regulations. Reports say that over 90% of tour buses in Taiwan have such anti-theft bolts installed.
Some of these locks can be remotely disabled from the driver’s seat, but the driver in this case might have passed out before the crash, leaving the vehicle uncontrolled. Surveillance footage shows that the bus traveled 1.4 kilometers while on fire. Investigators are quoted as saying the driver had very likely become unconscious from inhaling fumes.
Local media reported that nine bodies were found crowded at the rear emergency exit, but CNA quotes investigators as saying that the glass plate covering the door’s safety lever was found still in place, suggesting that the trapped passengers did not open the door properly and might still have failed to open it from the inside even if it were unlocked. Investigators said it is still inconclusive whether the anti-theft device directly contributed to this tragedy.
Nonetheless, the emergency door failed to open from the outside as it should have. Two people who were the first to arrive to help at the scene — a police officer and a truck driver who pulled over — said that they had pulled on the door handle for 11 seconds without success.
by Victor Fung
[Images via CNA]