FOURTEEN Slovaks were killed in the early morning of September 7 in what’s been called the worst traffic accident in the history of the country’s travel industry.
The accident involved a bus full of pensioners from an aerobics club in Košice who were travelling in Croatia on a section of highway linking Zagreb and Split.
For a still unknown reason, the bus veered off the road at high speed and struck a concrete section of an overpass near Mogorič.
Ivica Sarič, an ambulance driver who treated the victims at the scene, told the Czech TV channel ČT that the site was horrific.
“There were crushed bodies, one over the other,“ he said. "We have never seen such a tragic accident."
Bojan Gladar, a doctor at a hospital in Gospič, where some of the critically injured were taken, added that some passengers had been thrown through the bus' windows.
“The trouble was with those who were crushed by seats,” he told the ČT channel. “I don’t
remember if there were seven, eight, or nine of them. It was very difficult to free them.”
The next day, a plane dispatched by the Slovak government took 26 of the injured to Košice.
Slovak Health Minister Richard Raši told journalists that all the passengers had been examined in a makeshift emergency room created at Košice airport.
“Most of them had minor injuries – lacerations, bruises, minor concussions,” Raši said.
Sixteen were hospitalised at the Louis Pasteur Teaching Hospital (FNLP) in Košice. Raši then flew to Croatia to visit the seriously injured while psychologists tended to the relatives of the deceased.
Foreign Affairs Minister Ján Kubiš, who was also aboard the government plane, refused to speculate on the cause of the accident.
“We have to wait for the results of the investigation,” he said, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “The bus has been transported for checks to figure out its technical condition.”
Raši said a team of psychologists are working with the injured and their relatives, as well as the bereaved. Raši also thanked Croatian health workers and emergency responders.
On September 9, an ambulance brought one patient from Croatia to Košice. Several hours later, two more ambulances with four injured people arrived, Jaroslava Oravcová from the FNLP told journalists. She said the patients were originally treated in a hospital in Gospič for serious injuries.
Four patients remained in Croation hospitals at the time The Slovak Spectator went to print. Three of them were in the Dubrava clinic in Zagreb. They are in a serious but stable condition and all three are conscious. They are suffering from serious damage to their rib cages, arms and legs.
Another patient was in hospital in Rijeka, also in a serious but stable condition.
Anna Lenhártová is lucky she survived the crash. She received cuts to her throat from debris which landed just milimetres from her carotid artery.
“I woke up and blood was pouring from me, and there was glass everywhere,” she told journalists.
Both drivers, Ján Bartko and Pavol Pollák, died in the crash. Other passengers killed include aerobics trainer Viera Medveďová and a pensioner, Klára Floriánová.
Her husband, Karol, told the Sme daily that his wife was dedicated to aerobics and had been looking forward her whole life to going to Croatia.
Mostarko, the company that owned the bus, has issued a statement that it was in good condition.
Croatian policemen have suggested that the accident was caused by a burst tyre or because the driver fell asleep momentarily. Slovak experts agree on the latter theory, and have also suggested the driver may have suffered some sort of health problem.
Ján Vodstrčil, a technical expert from the company that produced the bus, told Sme on September 10 that even a burst tyre would not have caused the bus to go out of control.
“Our tests show drivers can stop a bus with a burst tyre without any problems,” Vodstrčil confirmed.
“The accident was basically the worst combination for any vehicle," he continued. "It was at a maximum speed into a concrete pillar, which has no give or take. Even an armoured vehicle could not withstand such an impact.”
Transport companies send two drivers on long-distance routes. So far, it is unclear which was driving at the time of the accident.
Bartko, one of the drivers, was 64. According to transport analyst Ján Bazovský, drivers of that age generally should not be assigned to longer routes.
“The age of bus drivers who can be assigned to long routes should be set by legislation, which is not the case,” Bazovský told the Nový Čas daily.
Radovan Kyselica, the Slovak military attaché in Croatia, told Slovak media that Croatian police are waiting for the results of tests that will help ascertain the cause of the crash. He estimated this would take 10 days.
In the meantime, the bodies of the 14 who died were brought home in a special army aircraft. Croation media have stated that pathologists in Rijeka have only managed to indentify seven bodies so far, due to the extent of the injuries, so Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák announced that the bodies will be identified in Slovakia.
The period from noon on September 9 to noon on September 10 was declared a day of national mourning.
With press reports
15. Sep 2008 at 0:00 | Ľuba Lesná