Five people were killed and 24 were injured, two of them seriously, when an Egged bus crashed into a truck on Route 85 between Acre and Carmiel yesterday. An Initial investigation suggests the bus swayed too far to the right and hit a semi-trailer truck parked at the side of the road.
The injured passengers were taken to hospitals in Nahariya and Safed. The more seriously injured passengers were evacuated by helicopter to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. Magen David Adom director general Eli Bin said that several passengers remained trapped in the bus for some time after the accident, and that the rescue forces had difficulty reaching them. They were eventually rescued by firefighters.
"We could see it was a multiple casualty event the minute we got here," said paramedic Amos Dadon, who commanded the MDA teams at the scene. "We had injured people thrown on the road. The bus was leaning to the right, and we could hear people screaming inside."
"The right side of the bus was crushed, seats had been ripped out and there were many very serious injuries," said MDA's operations officer in Carmiel, Yisrael Lichtenstein. "The sight reminded me of the many terror attack scenes I've seen over the years. It was like a battlefield."
The driver, 25, from the village of Sujur, only earned his bus driver's license this year, and had already been summoned for a reprimand by a company security officer a short while before the accident. After receiving his bus license following a 60-hours course, the driver was monitored by an undercover company team, as is common with many young drivers. He was soon observed not maintaining the proper distance from other vehicles too a dangerous degree, taken off the road for a short period of time and sent to an additional driving course before returning to work for the company.
"He was warned he will not work for Egged anymore," company spokesman Ron Retner said yesterday. "We had footage of him committing traffic violations and if we knew he had done it again, we'd have shown him the door."
"The bus toppled and broke up," one injured passenger, 3-year-old Sabine Gorelik, said yesterday at the Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed. Her mother, Vera Gorelik, who was also injured, sat weeping by her side.
Vera, from Carmiel, took yesterday off work and traveled with Sabine for a day of fun in Haifa. They went to the beach, shopped in a mall and walked around the city before boarding the number 361 bus back to Carmiel. They took the second pair of seats behind the driver. In front of them, Vera said, sat a woman the driver appeared to know.
"He kept turning his head and talking to that girl," Gorelik recounted. "At some point he took some papers from her and looked at them."
As the bus approached Gilon junction, Gorelik saw a truck parked on the hard shoulder to the right of the road. "I saw the bus kept going along that lane and I didn't quite grasp what was happening - I thought the driver would swerve to avoid the truck, then we got closer and I saw us drive right into it," she said. "I didn't really understand what was happening - I didn't even have time to scream."
The bus was full of passengers, she said, with many soldiers standing in the aisle. "And then in one moment they all fall down, bleeding. I can't understand how a man like that gets to drive a bus full of people."
Gorelik and her daughter were lightly injured in the accident. Five soldiers with light to medium injuries were also taken to the Safed hospital.
Dr Alex Breslavski, senior surgeon at Sieff, told Haaretz that the hospital was warned of a multiple casualty event and had time to organize. "All the injured are in shock, and have difficulty coping with what they've been through," he said.
An initial investigation indicated that human error caused the accident, police said yesterday. "This is an inter-city road with a very good infrastructure," Superintendent Eitan Raz told Haaretz. "We will question the driver as soon as possible and try to figure out what happened."
The Or Yarok Association for Safer Driving said yesterday that Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz was not doing enough to prevent such accidents. An ambitious road safety plan unveiled in 2005 called for the transportation ministry to conduct 10 special inquiries every year, with the task not to assign blame but to draw operational conclusions from the findings. No such inquiry has been conducted in the past two years, the association said.
Or Yarok CEO Shmuel Abuav said yesterday that the accident illustrates a disturbing 20 percent rise in traffic fatalities since the beginning of the year. "I call on the minister to immediately set up an inquiry team," he said. "That team must investigate whether the five people killed in that bus might've lived if they were wearing seat belts, why a young driver who was reprimanded so recently was allowed to carry dozens of passengers, and why the truck was parked in such a dangerous location."
"Only an in-depth investigation can prevent the next accident," Abuav said.
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