S’poreans return home after Perth tour bus crash

SingaporeScene

Australian medics escort an injured passenger to an ambulance after the tour bus crash in Lancelin, Western Australia. (Photo: Seven News)

20 of the 33 Bridgestone employees and dealers involved in Sunday's monster truck tour bus accident in Perth have returned to Singapore last night.

The four-wheel drive bus they were in was trying to reverse down a sand dune in Lancelin, Western Australia, when it rolled off and flipped over, injuring and trapping most of the passengers -- mainly Singaporeans -- and its driver on board.

The Western Australia Department of Health confirmed that all 34 people on board the bus had been treated in hospitals in Perth, while seven Singaporeans remain hospitalised due to the severity of their injuries, reported The Straits Times.

This includes two Singaporeans -- a 38-year-old woman, believed to be a mother of two, and a 67-year-old man -- who have sustained serious neck injuries and may be paralysed, said local police.

Singapore's foreign affairs ministry has also said in a statement that 23 Singaporeans have been discharged from hospital and were returning home over the next few days.

However, police in Western Australia have confirmed reports of "several missing passports and cameras" following the accident.

The broadsheet reported that when the authorities scanned the sand dunes with metal detectors, the items could not be found, leading to suspicions of theft on the part of local witnesses present at the scene.

Police there are now investigating both the possibility of theft and the cause of the accident, which has never happened before for Desert Storm Adventures, the Australian tour agency in charge of the ill-fated sand dune trip. Its owner, Glenn Doye, was driving the tour bus, and was injured in the accident as well.

Passengers arriving in Changi Airport greeted anxious relatives and friends, who were fixated on the arrival information display.

50-year-old Angeline Soh, whose husband was among the travellers, said, "I got a shock when I first heard the news from him. Thank goodness he was alive and conscious."

She added that, according to her husband, those who had sustained more minor injuries were left at the scene without food until evening.

"The irony is that the trip had originally been planned to take place in Japan, but was switched to Australia due to concerns of nuclear risks," said 55-year-old Florence Goh, whose brother Fred, a dealer with Bridgestone, was one of the passengers on the bus.

In the meantime, the aftermath of the accident is far from over for its passengers. David Fedarb, the regional manager for insurance firm ACE Asia Pacific, said that several have already contacted the company about claims for the accident.

Bridgestone spokespersons have said that they are not looking into the matter of compensation yet, focusing on helping those in need to get treatment first. The company also told The Straits Times that it has constantly been updating families of the victims and "helping to fly them over".

However, two families of victims told the newspaper that they had not been contacted at all, and that their first sources of information were news reports. One relative said, "Right now, no one knows what's going on."

The company had planned the Australian bus tour through local agency Spinergy Travel Guide, saying the latter recommended the monster truck even though the firm offering it had declared a winter off-season period from 4 July to 15 August.

The tour was determined to be "suitable for all passengers", even those in their late 60s, by Bridgestone, following consultation with Spinergy.