One man died and five people were injured, three critically, when a Rith Mony bus carrying about 20 passengers burst into flames that swept through the cabin on Saturday night in Battambang’s O’Mal commune, provincial authorities said yesterday.
The charred remains of 42-year-old Banteay Menachey resident Long Thea were only discovered after the flames were extinguished, provincial fire chief Kim Bunthoeun said yesterday. Passengers Chhoeun Sina, 28; Mony Bopha, 3; and Chin Sok Ken, 40, remain in critical condition, while Ou Reaksa, 27, and Chin Kong, 68, sustained minor injuries.
“The [engine] explosion occurred at about 10:20pm . . . The man who died was reportedly asleep. He was burned almost to ash, and we could not even identify his body,” Bunthoeun said.
The Rith Mony bus company was one of four companies threatened with closure in 2013 by the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation following a spate of accidents. It told the companies at the time that they were required to have fire extinguishers on board all their vehicles.
Authorities determined that Saturday’s fire began when an electrical circuit malfunctioned. Passengers on the bus said the fire started in the front of the bus where the driver, Ham Soun, was seated, and that he and his assistant fled the scene.
The fire completely consumed the bus and a motorbike that was inside.
Reaksa, one of the injured passengers, said the electricity went out suddenly as smoke began pouring from the front of the vehicle. The smoke choked the passengers, causing them to rush towards the rear exit, but the door was stuck, Reaksa explained.
“I used my elbow to hit the window two times and my head to break the window so I could stick my head out of the bus to breathe,” Reaksa said. “Once I could breathe, I used my head and shoulders to completely break the window, and then I fell out of the bus onto the ground.”
With all of their belongings, including their mobile phones, engulfed in flames, authorities were alerted to the situation only after a motorbike driver arrived at a police station around 6 kilometres from the explosion, Bunthoeun said.
Police only arrived on the scene about an hour and a half after the initial explosion, with an ambulance arriving another hour after that.
The dead man’s family came to collect his remains, while the other victims are being treated at a local hospital, Sam Rith Oeurn, a Battambang city police officer said.
The bus company’s insurance firm is now looking into compensation for the victims, according to Pang Marin, a manager with Rith Mony. He added that the company is working to ensure such electrical problems will not occur again.
The Ministry of Public Works and Transport could not be reached for comment.