School bus fire kills 18 children in Gujrat
* Blast caused by a spark as driver of the dual-fuel van tried to switch from gas to petrol
* Police say driver also kept petrol in a plastic bottle as reserve fuel
* Survivor says driver was informed about a ‘very bad smell’
ISLAMABAD: At least 18 children and a teacher were reportedly killed when their school bus caught fire in Gujrat on Saturday.
Five other children were injured in the blaze, which destroyed the vehicle.
The van was carrying 24 children to a private school in Gujrat when it caught fire, local police chief Dar Ali Khattak told AFP.
“The fire erupted in the vehicle when the children were only a few kilometres from their school,” he said.
The blaze was apparently caused by a spark when the driver of the dual-fuel van switched from gas to petrol, he said, adding that the gas cylinder was intact.
The children were aged between five and 15 years, he said, adding that a female teacher also died.
The driver, who fled and left the van in flames, has been arrested in the nearby city of Kharian, police official Abid Khan said.
Initial information said the driver had also kept petrol in a plastic bottle, as reserve fuel for emergency use, which may have contributed in intensifying the fire, he added.
The dead included three children of police constable Mohammad Riaz, and the dead teacher was their aunt, residents said, adding that thousands of people attended their funeral.
“We told the driver there was a very bad smell of gas leakage. But he did not listen and soon after the fire erupted,” a 10-year boy who survived the blaze told a private news channel.
Police said the van was carrying schoolchildren of Rajayki, Chak Khagha and Mangowal villages to Jinnah Public School when a short-circuit next to a leaking petrol tank caused a blaze in the vehicle.
As a result, Abdullah, his sister Zara, Aftab, Ahmad Raza, Shahzad, Eman Sajjad, Taimoor, Ali Hasan, Hassnat, Shaiza Muzaffar, Humdan, Salman, Atif, Riyan, Hasan and teacher Samiya Noor died on the spot.
The injured were identified as Kanwal, Firdous, Hasnain, Shafqat and Fahd, who were shifted to a local hospital from where they were shifted to Lahore and Kharian hospitals. On receiving information, the DCO, police officers and Rescue 1122 personnel reached the spot, while an investigation against the driver has been initiated.
Meanwhile, President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed shock and grief over the tragic deaths of a number of schoolchildren.
The president said he was deeply saddened over the incident that occurred earlier in the day. He expressed his heartfelt sympathies with the bereaved families.
The president directed the authorities concerned to submit an immediate report on the fatal incident so that measures could be taken to make transport for schoolchildren safe. Many vehicles in energy-starved Pakistan are powered by relatively cheap compressed natural gas and cylinder blasts are common. Pakistan has one of the world’s worst records for fatal traffic accidents, blamed on poor roads, badly maintained vehicles and reckless driving.
Meanwhile, the All Pakistan CNG Association has issued a statement, negate the perception of a cylinder blast that killed the schoolchildren.
In a statement and pictures issued on Saturday, the association said the accident took place due to a short circuit, which resulted in a fire in the petrol can used by the van driver. It said that both CNG cylinders were intact after the incident. The statement says that CNG supply across Punjab is already suspended for the last four days, and will continue until May 27. agencies