HANOI - A group of 16 young Vietnamese motorbikers were first on the scene at last Monday's tragic bus accident on its way from the resort town of Sa Pa, which killed 13 of the 50 passengers on a sleeper bus.
The bus broke through a small railing at dusk and disappeared into a 200- metre ravine about 20km from Sa Pa
It was on the steep 4D Highway in Bat Xat District of Lao Cai Province.
The youngsters were horrified at what happened in front of their eyes, but they were quick to respond.
The accident was the deadliest in a series of road accidents throughout the recent four-day Independence Day break.
They were quickly clambering up and down the dark, cold slopes looking for the dead and dying.
"We called 113 (emergency number) right away, but knew it would take quite some time for official rescuers and police to reach the crash site," said Vu Nhu Thuong, a student at Ha Noi University of Business and Technology. "We had to act right away because there were lives to save."
Members of the group split into teams armed with cell-phones and flash-lights. Others stayed by the roadside, asking other passers-by to help.
The night temperature kept dropping and the moans of the injured filled the air.
Bui Ngoc Duc, a student from Ha Noi University of Science and Technology, said he and some friends climbed down to the crash site.
He said they were "literally shaking" seeing dead bodies everywhere and the injured crying out. Some were still trapped in the bus wreckage and bleeding profusely.
"This was the first time I had seen dead bodies. I carried a small jar of wine with me during our road-trip and we had to use it to calm down and keep warm. We were so afraid we would step on someone," Duc said.
One woman crying out in pain was later found to have multiple injuries, including fractures to her pelvis, thighs and spinal cord.
Another screamed out for help for her husband, even though her legs were broken. One man was still alive when the team arrived, but died soon afterwards. Two pregnant women lay dead in the wreckage.
Nguyen Le Nguyen, another member, said the priority was to determine who was still alive by feeling for a pulse beat at the neck. "We tried to calm down those who were conscious, asking them their names, home towns and contact numbers for of loved-ones."
The backpackers had only a few bandages and first-aid equipments in their gear, so they had to dig out the cotton from the sleeper-buses' seats to stop the bleeding.
They also dismantled the bus seats to make rough stretchers to carry the victims.
Nguyen said local residents supplied rope to haul the survivors back onto the road and wait for official rescuers.
Investigations later indicated that the bus swerved to avoid a car going in the opposite direction, causing it to plunge down the ravine. The bus had 53 people on board at the time of the accident, including two drivers and a driver's assistant, but it was only licensed to carry 47 people.
Later last week, the Minister of Transport, Dinh La Thang, suspended the bus operator.
The accident caused a nationwide alarm among travellers, many of them foreign tourists. The Internet was already full of complaints about "nightmare services" and "horror trips" when the accident occurred.
Minister Thang, who accompanied a team of rescue workers and doctors to the site in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the day after the accident, last week banned sleeper-bus travelling on dangerous routes in mountainous areas.
Meanwhile, motorbike group leader Phong Van said he was proud of the team's efforts, proving that young people really do care about helping others.
In fact, their courage has already spread on the Internet, winning praise from everyone.
Minister Thang on Saturday gave them with a certificate of appreciation from the National Traffic Safety Committee and HCM City Youth Union.
The group cut short their trip and returned to the Lao Cai Hospital to visit the injured.
One thing is certain, their selflessness and determination has lifted the image of Vietnamese youngsters.
They are occasionally criticised for taking risks by using difficult routes.
"We know the importance of keeping it safe. My parents knew about this incident. They still allow me to continue on similar road-trips. I got so many messages both on and offline about what we did. I'm very honoured," he said.