Islamabad: 3 held as fire blamed on gas leak
ISLAMABAD: Police probing the ill-fated coaster fire in which nine passengers were burnt alive have arrested three people, including its driver, on Wednesday, sources told Dawn.
A maker of the vehicles` bodies and a CNG mechanic were also arrested. Investigators trapped the driver by making a phone call, informing him that his valuables have been recovered and handed over at the bus terminal in Pirwadhai. He was arrested and shifted to Koral police station.
Sources quoted the driver as saying that he had refilled gas from a station in Rawat and came over to Pirwadhai to pick up passengers for Kalar Syedan.
He heard a blast and saw fire in the coaster`s rear, sources said, adding that the driver applied brakes and jumped out of the vehicle. He hid himself in a roadside restaurant â€“ Khokhar Hotel.
Police sources said the driver, who escaped unhurt, told investigators that the “brand new” coaster was bought two weeks back. He also told police that the vehicle`s body was prepared by a maker in Lahore and the CNG cylinders were fitted by a mechanic in Kasur. Both were arrested on Wednesday. Police are making efforts to trace and arrest the coaster`s owner.
Preliminary probe suggested that the driver and conductor Mohammad Ali along with four passengers, including women, jumped out shortly after the fire.
Police said two more victims were identified as Ali Akbar, a resident of Rawat, and Mudassar, a resident of Layyah. The heirs took away their bodies for burial.
Sources in Pims said now eight bodies have been identified and handed over to the relatives.
Chief Inspector of Explosives Haroon Rehman told Dawn that the fire erupted due to gas leakage. The gas leaked, he said, because of faulty CNG kit or its defective installation. The gas leakage from the improper fitting was 3,000 pound per square inch and gutted the coaster in less than two minutes, he added.
His experts suggested that in such a short time majority of the passengers failed to overcome shock caused by the fire and react to get out of the burning vehicle.
The Bomb Disposal Squad and the forensic laboratory of the capital police on wheels also examined the wreckage of the coaster, as there were reports about “loud explosions” before the fire. Experts however said no signs of explosives were found on the vehicle. All four gas cylinders fitted in the coaster have been found intact.
Meanwhile, eyewitnesses said the fire tenders of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) reached the spot of the tragedy late.
“Four fire trucks arrived 40 minutes after the incident. By the time they arrived, the coaster was completely gutted,” Ikram, an eyewitness, told Dawn. But the firefighters blamed “senseless drivers and lack of cooperation from commuters” who failed to give way to their vehicles. “It was not our fault. The road leading to the place of incident was blocked and the crowd was behaving like spectators,” said a senior official of the authority`s rescue department. Insisting on anonymity, he claimed that a narrow route to Pakistan Town bus stop was also a major problem.
“The Korangi Bridge is the only route to the area. There is no alternative road which could have given us an easy access to Pakistan Town bus stop.”
The official said the road till Bahria Town stop is congested. “It`s a double road but was all jammed up to blast site.”
Ramzan Sajid, spokesman for the CDA, confirmed that fire tenders had reached the spot late but also pointed towards the distance from the authority`s fire headquarters. “The distance from G-7 to Pakistan Town stop is almost 17km.”
He said the fire tenders had reached the area within 27 minutes but firefighters had to walk on foot for almost 2km to make way for fire tenders.
The spokesman said now the authority has decided to establish a fire and rescue ambulance service near Koral Chowk.
“The city`s limits are increasing and the incidents on the Islamabad Expressway have also increased twofold. We have no other option other than establishing a fire tender and rescue ambulance point on the expressway.”
About the missing technical gadgetry for the CDA rescue officials, the spokesman said: “The department was provided with all the advanced rescue equipment.”
But an official speaking on condition of anonymity said the authority`s rescue men did not take pictures of the place of accident as they did not have cameras.
The spokesman said the authority would provide cameras to the rescue officials once they get a written request from the emergency and disaster wing.