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29 die as bus plunges off India’s ‘highway to hell’

By AFP - Jul 09,2019 - Last updated at Jul 09,2019

Onlookers and Indian police gather around the crumpled remains of a bus that crashed on the Delhi-Agra expressway, near Agra, on Monday (AFP photo)

AGRA, India — At least 29 people were killed and 18 others injured when a bus careered off a notorious Indian highway after the driver apparently fell asleep at the wheel, officials said on Monday.

The bus was carrying more than 50 people along the Yamuna expressway — known as the "highway to hell" because of the number of fatal accidents — when it crashed through a concrete barrier and plunged more than 12 metres into a drainage canal.

"It appears that the driver was drowsy," said Agra district magistrate N.G. Ravi Kumar, who provided the number of dead and injured.

The bus was travelling from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh to Delhi when the accident happened just before dawn, some 20 kilometres near Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.

More than 150,000 people a year are killed on India's roads, which are notorious for design flaws and speeding drivers.

The 165-kilometre Yamuna expressway was India's longest and most modern six-lane highway when it opened in 2012, but about 900 people have been killed on the road since, according to authorities.

Indian media have dubbed it the "highway to hell".

Local residents said they were woken up by the crash and found the mangled bus submerged in blackish-grey water. 

 

Most passengers were asleep 

 

Police said it landed on its roof in a drain, where running water complicated rescue efforts.

"We rushed out of our homes and saw people screaming for help," one witness told reporters.

"We got into the drain and tried to save some of them. Soon police arrived and quickly brought cranes." 

Officials believe most of the passengers were asleep when the driver lost control of the vehicle, which had the Taj Mahal painted on its white exterior.

State Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered an investigation, as well as cash compensation of 500,000 rupees ($7,289) for the families of those killed.

"The committee will give a report on the cause of the accident and also suggest long-term measures to avoid such mishaps," government official Awanish Awasthi said.

The Yamuna expressway was intended to be a symbol of modernity when it was opened — speeding up journey times from Delhi to the key region — but authorities admit there are key safety concerns.

In 2017 alone, some 763 crashes were reported on the highway resulting in 145 deaths, authorities told the Save Life Foundation, a road safety campaign group.

"The crashes may be due to human or a car error, but most of the deaths are because the road infrastructure is not good enough," said Piyush Tiwari, the group's founder. 

Fatalities on Indian roads are often blamed on speeding and drunk driving, but experts say many highways are poorly constructed and surfaced, making journeys risky.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh offered condolences to those affected and promised assistance to the injured.

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