KHAIRPUR - At least 58 people, including women and children, were killed and 17 others injured in a head-on collision between a passenger bus and a goods truck near Therhi Bypass here on Tuesday.

Reportedly, an overloaded bus carrying 80 passengers was going to Karachi from Swat (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). When it reached Therhi Bypass near Khairpur, its driver tried to overtake a vehicle, resulting in a head-on collision with an oncoming truck. The coach overturned after hitting the truck as a result of which 25 people, including women, children died on the spot.

On receiving information, emergency and rescue teams, police, motorway police and social workers reached the accident site and began shifting the victims to hospitals in Sukkur and Khairpur districts.

An emergency was imposed at the civil hospitals of Khairpur, Sukkur and others, where the condition of several wounded was reported critical. At least 23 injured died on their way to hospitals and during treatment.

Khairpur hospital Civil Surgeon Ghulam Jaffar Soomro, talking to newsman, confirmed the death of 58 people, including 22 men, 17 women and 19 children. He added eight of 17 injured were shifted to a Sukkur hospital. Most of the injured were with fractures and head injuries. The coach driver, Haider Ali of Butgram, and truck driver, Jamil Ahmed of Lahore, also died. The coal-laden truck and coach were completely destroyed. He added the condition of six injured was critical and doctors were trying to save their lives.

According to the motorway police, the coach was overloaded and speeding and that the accident occurred due to the negligence of its driver. Most of the bodies, belonging to KP, could not be identified. Khairpur police official Ghulam Jhokhio said the bus quickly caught fire after its fuel tank exploded.

Initially, Jhokhio said, the accident might have happened because of a heavy fog. But later, deputy chief of highway police, AD Khawaja, said the bus was moving fast on a part of the highway under construction and that the driver’s carelessness caused the accident.

“The speeding bus was overcrowded and the driver was careless,” Khawaja said, adding that earlier in the day, traffic police had stopped the bus and fined it for carrying too many passengers.

Private TV channels broadcast live footage from the scene, showing rescue workers carrying the victims and policemen clearing the road.

Rescue officer Muhammad Ata described the inferno as he held a little girl, 4-year old, in his arms and recounted how he pulled her out of the burning bus. “She was sitting all calm in a seat when I got into the bus on fire,” Ata said.

Deadly accidents are common on roads across Pakistan due to bad road infrastructure and rampant disregard of traffic laws. Over 9,000 road accidents are reported to the police every year, killing on average around 5,000 people, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

Television footage of the aftermath of Tuesday’s crash showed the mangled bus lying on its side, its roof completely sheared off and battered green seats scattered around the scene.

Dr Jaffar Soomro confirmed 57 were killed and 21 injured. Police said there were 17 women and 18 children among the dead.

“The accident was so severe that all of them died on the spot except for one child, Soomro said by phone from Khairpur Civil Hospital. “I have never seen a road accident of such a horrible magnitude.”

The bus was carrying Pashtun families from Swat valley to Karachi and the medical staff was struggling to communicate with some of the injured who spoke only Pashto.

“We have called Pashtun translators to communicate with the surviving people, especially the children who are in a very miserable condition,” Soomro said.

AD Khawaja, the Sindh motorway police chief, said the poor condition of the road and bad driving might have been factors. “There was a deep ditch on the road some 30 to 40 yards from the place where the bus hit the truck,” he said.

“We have learned that the bus went out of control after it hit the rutting and landed on the opposite side of the road and then hit the truck which was coming from Karachi.”

Senior police officer Faisal Chachar said the bus and the truck had both been travelling at around 80-90 kilometres per hour (50-55 miles per hour) when they collided. “We had to call mechanical cranes and cutters to separate the bus and trucks and the bus was compressed completely,” Chachar said.

The recovery equipment available to Pakistani emergency services is often basic and when crashes happen away from major towns, rescue efforts can take some time, reducing injured passengers’ chances of survival.

In April a bus smashed into a tractor-trailer in a high-speed collision in Sindh, killing 42 people, while in March a horrific crash between two buses and a petrol tanker left 35 dead, with many burnt alive when the fuel ignited.

Three crashes in the space of 10 days in March in Kashmir and the northwest left a total of 46 people dead.

An initial investigation report on the accident said the accident took place as a result of poorly maintained road. The Sindh police DIG said the passenger bus was overloaded. The report has been prepared after recording the statements of eyewitnesses, the DIG added.