Five Lankans killed in Saudi road accident

Burnt bodies found on ill-fated bus yield few clues as to victims’ identities
By Leon Berenger

At least five Sri Lankans were among 20 bus passengers who died in a road accident in Saudi Arabia late on Friday night. The victims were burnt to death when the bus they were travelling in crashed into an oncoming truck and burst into flames, close to the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

Sri Lanka envoy to Saudi Arabia, Marleen Mohamed, told the Sunday Times that proper identification was not possible because the bodies were burnt beyond recognition, although it was established that all the victims were male.

“It appears the victims were trapped inside the burning bus for several minutes. The powerful blaze prevented rescuers from getting close to the ill-fated bus,” Mr. Marleen said.

“The doors, including the emergency doors, of state-owned passenger buses in the kingdom are usually operated by the driver, when there is no conductor. The tragedy could have been prevented if there had been a second person to manipulate the doors.”

Initial investigations revealed that the driver of the heavy truck coming from the opposite direction was at fault. It was also revealed that of the five Sri Lankans, one had gained employment in the city of Dammam, while the other four were job hunters who had entered the kingdom in recent days, Mr. Marleen said.

Colombo has been asked to trace the job agency that recruited the victims and inform their next of kin, so the bodies can be sent directly to their homes, the envoy said.

“Embassy officials are going through whatever papers were found on the victims in an effort to identify them. Apart from that, there is very little else that can be done”, Mr. Marleen said.

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