They saw it coming and tightly held onto their seats amid deafening screams. There were screeching tyres, a loud bang and groans from passengers. Then silence.
When the Eldoret Express bus finally rested on its right side in a ditch along the Kisumu-Kericho highway, 13 people, including a two-year-old child, lay dead, their bodies trapped in the mangled wreck. The time was 11.30pm, and the dimming lights of the bus flickered through the dark night, as survivors cried out for help.
Friday’s horrific accident at Pala, near Awasi township, involved a bus that was heading to Nairobi from Uyoma in Siaya County, and a trailer transporting alcoholic drinks from Kericho to Kisumu. That accident took place one year after another deadly crash claimed 55 lives in the nearby Fort Tena area on the Kisumu-Kericho border.
The Fort Tenan accident, also involving a passenger bus, took place on the night of October 15, after the driver lost control of the bus and ploughed into the road’s guardrails. Yesterday, relatives of the dead jammed the Ahero sub-county hospital to identify bodies of their loved ones, as survivors fought for their lives at various hospitals.
Among the dead was 22-year-old Nicholas Ochieng, son to long-serving chairman of the Kisumu Town Newspaper Vendors, Peter Oriwo. Oriwo said his son was travelling to Nairobi for a job interview. “I have just identified the body at Ahero Hospital Mortuary. I am devastated,” said Oriwo.
Police officers were yesterday morning trying to piece together details of the accident as it emerged that a tractor hauling sugarcane may have been at the centre of the crash.
Eyewitnesses told the Saturday Standard that the bus was trying to overtake the tractor, which had no rear lights, when it crashed into the oncoming trailer.
This has sparked a debate on why trailers, many of which are not roadworthy, are being allowed to use busy highways at night. Tractors and trailers hauling sugarcane are common along the Kisumu-Kericho, Kisumu-Muhoroni and Rongo-Migori roads, which pass through the sugar belts.
Nyanza Regional Police Commander, Dr Vincent Makokha, who coordinated the rescue operation, said most of the dead lost their lives at the scene. Among the dead are the drivers of the bus and the trailer. The trailer’s turnboy is said to have survived but could not be traced by the time we went to press.
Emotions ran high as survivors of the grisly road accident recounted their ordeal to the press at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Referral Hospital (JOOTRH) in Kisumu.Elizabeth Awino, who was heading to Nairobi from Bondo, shed tears as nurses at the casualty ward attended to her injuries.“My God! You are great! I thank you!” she said as nurses put her on pain relieving drips.
Erickson Muli, a police constable at Aram Police Station, was among the survivors. The officer from Makueni County was heading home for holiday.“I lost all my valuables, including foodstuff I had bought for my family. I found myself here in the morning with only one shoe and socks,” he said.
The bus conductor, Peter Kamanda, also survived. ’’I have no recollection of what happened. I only remember hearing a scream, followed by a loud bang, then more screams,” he said.
The rescue mission was led by Kenya Red Cross personnel, with their ambulances and the Kenya police traffic officers manning the Nairobi-Kisumu highway.They were joined by Kisumu County Police Commander Benson Maweu and Regional Commissioner James Kianda, as well as Deputy County Commissioner, Erick Wanyonyi.
“We suspect the bus driver was speeding as he tried to overtake a tractor and realised too late that he could not overtake the tractor and avoid the approaching truck,’’ Kianda said.
He added that, “We expect all PSVs to keep a record of all passengers travelling in their vehicles at any given time. We will also strictly monitor and enforce compliance.’’According to JOOTRH’s chief nursing officer Henry Ondieki, the survivors are out of danger, save for four. “We mobilised nurses who responded swiftly to attend to the casualties,’’ said Ondieki.