Bus crash - Daniel Bar-On - 24.5.2011
The aftermath of the crash between Egged bus 405 and a truck on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway near the Ben Shemen interchange, May 24, 2011. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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A 25-year-old Jerusalem man was killed yesterday and a woman was critically injured in a collision between a crowded Egged bus and truck on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, Route 1. Another 31 people were injured.

The No. 405 bus left Tel Aviv at 9 A.M. en route to Jerusalem, and collided with the truck around 9:20 A.M. near the Ben-Shemen exit and then hit a guardrail.

One bus passenger, Dr. Lior Rabi, of Tel Aviv, who was on his way to a medical conference at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said he had shut his eyes on the bus trip when he found himself thrown to the floor of the bus, along with other passengers. "There was a huge boom. Everyone screamed and there was a lot of smoke. We thought it was a terrorist attack," he recounted.

The cause of the accident is still under investigation, but it is thought the collision occurred after the truck slowed, apparently to pull off onto the right berm, and was hit by the bus, which allegedly failed to maintain sufficient braking distance.

Efforts to extract the bus occupants were complex and required the assistance of firefighting personnel, who sawed the bus apart. The injured were taken to Assaf Harofeh Hospital at Tzrifin, Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer and Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot.

Extensive interrogation of the drivers of the two vehicles was deferred until today due to their medical conditions, but blood and urine samples were taken to rule out the possibility that they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

At the hospital, the bus driver told investigators he thought he had hit the truck from behind but did not recall the precise details of the accident.

According to Egged spokesman Ron Ratner, the driver had 27 years' professional experience as a driver and an unblemished safety record. Initial findings indicate the driver had 12 hours of rest before setting out with his passengers from Tel Aviv, and his bus had undergone thorough period maintenance a week before and was said to be mechanically sound, Ratner said.

Dozens of Magen David Adom ambulances came to the accident to evacuate the injured. Also there were volunteers from Israel Rescue and Hatzalah, a volunteer emergency rescue group whose members use motorcycles to get to accident scenes quickly. A dispute broke out between the group's representatives and Magen David Adom staff when the volunteers began to be photographed at the accident scene wearing vests featuring the name of their organization.

MDA district director Itzik Ben-Aharon, who was at the scene, said the volunteers were not needed and would use the photos for fund-raising, purporting to show that they extracted the accident victims from the bus. For his part, Eli Beer of Israel Rescue and Hatzalah said his members were the first at the scene, although an MDA representative disputed this.