On May 4, the Thimphu-Tsirang bus had begun its journey at 7:30am from Thimphu. Twenty-two passengers were on board including three female children.
The bus stopped for about 15 minutes when it reached Lobesa, Punakha.
It continued its journey until they reached Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project dam site to take on board two more passengers – a mother and daughter.
Dorji Gyem, 24, was seated at the last row of the bus. Save for the soft music, the bus, she remembered, was quiet.
“When the women rode the bus, the daughter sat next to me and the mother sat right behind the driver because she wasn’t so well,” she recalled.
About 10 minutes later at Kewathang, the bus plunged into the Punatsangchhu. Eight died including the driver and 16 were injured.
According to Dorji Gyem, a rolling boulder hit the front tyre of the bus and a second one hit the bus driver. “When the boulder hit the tyre I think the bus driver got confused. And then everything happened really fast.”
Seated between four passengers, two on each side, Dorji Gyem had a good view of the road ahead. “I didn’t know anyone in the bus so my eyes were on the road the whole journey. I was alert the whole time because I was feeling uneasy the whole journey.”
When the bus crashed at the banks of Punatsangchhu, Dorji Gyem was thrown off a window into the river. Almost drowning in the river, a luggage strap, she recalled helped her pull herself to safety. “I fell into the river but the water force brought me back to surface. That was when I got hold of a luggage strap. I didn’t see the other passengers, I think many were thrown off on the way.”
The rescue team found six passengers had died on impact at the site. Among them were a 38-year-old mother and her 3-year-old daughter. A 24-year-old male student of the Royal Institute of Health and Sciences in Thimphu also lost his life in the accident. The same day, an 80-year-old woman passed away at Bajo hospital from injuries incurred in the accident.
On May 5, the body of 26-year-old female who was missing after the accident was retrieved from underneath the bus. A total of eight passengers, four male and four female died in the accident. Thirty-two year old driver was one of them.
The 13 patients admitted at Bajo hospital were sent home yesterday. Three were referred to Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital the same day of the accident.
A PHPA security guard who was part of the rescue team was also injured at the site. Falling boulders also damaged an ambulance of Punakha hospital that His Holiness the Je Khenpo had donated last June. “If not for the ambulance, it would have been a massacre as the rescue team was on the way of the falling boulders,” a commuter said.
Bajo hospital management claimed that an emergency mock drill held about five months ago proved beneficial in handling the situation. Meanwhile, Wangdue police is till trying to remove the bus wreck from the river.
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue