Bus crash on highway to India's Taj Mahal kills 28, injures 18

NEW DELHI - A bus on Monday (July 8) skidded off an expressway to India's northern city of Agra, home of the famed monument to love, the Taj Mahal, and fell into a drain, killing 28 people, after its driver apparently dozed off at the wheel, police said.

Indian roads are among the world's deadliest, with 464,910 accidents in 2017 that killed nearly 148,000 people, the latest government data shows.

More than 40 people were on board the bus travelling from New Delhi, the capital, when it went off the six-lane, 165-km-long Yamuna expressway, the site of many accidents, and a police official said 18 passengers were injured, some critically. 

AFP, citing Agra district magistrate N.G. Ravi Kumar, reported the death toll at 29. 

"The cause of the accident is a matter of investigation, but initially it seems that the driver of the bus fell asleep," said Agra police superintendent Bablu Kumar.

People living in the area said they were woken by the crash and found the badly-mangled bus submerged in blackish-grey water. 

“We rushed out of our homes and saw people screaming for help. We got into the drain and tried to save some of them. Soon police arrived and quickly brought cranes,” one witness told reporters.

Video images showed the mangled remains of the bus half-submerged in the drain as rescuers struggled to extricate bodies.

Most of the victims were sleeping when the driver lost control of the vehicle which had the Taj Mahal painted on its white exterior.

State Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered an investigation into the crash and cash compensation of 500,000 rupees ($9,917) for the family of each of the dead.

“The (probe) committee will give a report on the cause of the accident and also suggest long-term measures to avoid such mishaps,” government official Awanish Awasthi said.

The Yamuna expressway was India’s longest six-lane highway when it opened in 2012 but about 900 people been killed on the road since, according to authorities, and Indian media have dubbed it the “highway to hell”.

It was intended to be a symbol of modernity when it was opened, speeding up journey times from Delhi to the key region. But authorities admit there are key safety concerns.

Last week, authorities in Uttar Pradesh state, where Agra is located, warned speeding drivers they would face stiff fines, but enforcement of traffic laws has been lax.

Fatalities on Indian roads are often blamed on speeding and drunk driving but experts say many highways suffer from design flaws, making rides a daily risk.

India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh called the latest accident “heart wrenching” and expressed his condolences to grieving families.