PETALING JAYA - Thirteen Malaysians were killed in a horrific bus tragedy near Chiang Mai, Thailand, after their driver, who was fleeing from an earlier collision with a pick-up truck, veered the vehicle off a mountainous highway.
Four other Malaysians were seriously injured while five suffered slight injuries in the accident, which happened at about 12.20pm yesterday.
Malaysian Ambassador to Thailand Datuk Nazirah Hussain confirmed the numbers of the dead and injured.
"Thai police have not released the full list of those killed yet. The embassy is working closely with Thai authorities to render assistance to the injured and to contact their next of kin," she told The Star last night.
The tour bus with 22 Malaysian tourists was seen speeding along the 43km mark of Thailand's highway No 118 through the Ban Pang Fan village in the Doi Saket district located between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces in the north before the driver lost control of the vehicle.
According to local news reports, the bus crashed into a car, skidded off the road and rammed into a power cable pole before tumbling down a slope lined with boulders and trees.
Eleven died at the scene while two others were pronounced dead on arrival at the Doi Saket hospital nearby.
Besides the Malaysians, the bus, operated by Weerapan Tour and Travel Limited, was carrying three other passengers and a Thai tour guide.
The Nation quoted rescue worker Uthai Pollaharn as saying that the bus driver had fled an earlier accident with a pick-up truck in the Danmae Kajan area of Chiang Rai.
The truck driver, Krissana Fongdawirat, who was not hurt, chased after the bus and alerted police who also started the search for the bus.
Police found the mangled wreckage of the bus and the bodies of the dead. Rescue workers had to use heavy machinery to cut through the bus to rescue some of the injured and also to retrieve the bodies.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak expressed his condolences to the victims' families.
"I am saddened to hear about the accident in Chiang Mai where 13 of our people perished. I offer my condolences to the families of the victims," he said in a tweet.
"The Government will ensure that efforts be made to bring their remains home and assistance be given to families of Malaysian victims."
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also sent out his condolences.
"Hope that our ambassador will do the best in the arrangement for the remains," he said in his tweet.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong also offered his condolences to the families of the victims in a Twitter message last night.
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry expressed its deepest condolences to the families and friends of those killed in the accident.
Those seeking more information can call the Malaysian Embassy in Bangkok at +66-87-028-4659 or +66-2-629 6831 or +66-87-028 4659.
Additional reporting by Sira Habibu, Kathleen Ann Kili, Crystal Chiam Shiying, Loshana K. Shagar and Jastin Ahmad Tarmizi.