At least 26 people, including 24 mainland tourists, died in Taiwan on Tuesday after a fire broke out inside their tour bus after it collided with a crash barrier, Taiwan authorities said.
“The bus was carrying 24 tourists on an eight-day tour organized by a travel agency in China’s northeastern province of Liaoning,” authorities said in a statement.
The driver and the tour guide, both from Taiwan, were also killed.
The Taoyuan Fire Department said they had found 26 bodies, including those of three teenage children, inside the bus. Ten of the passengers were reported to have been males.
Officials confirmed there were no survivors.
“The fire moved very fast. All 26 died,” Lu Jui-yao, an official with the National Highway Police Bureau, told reporters.
Taiwan is a popular destination for mainland tourists, who provide a major source of tourism revenue for the island. Traffic accidents in Taiwan involving Chinese tourists are not uncommon.
China regards Taiwan as a reactionary province and relations between the two haven’t been cordial. For years, travel between the two sides was restricted, but tourist exchanges have deepened over the past two decades. Records show that many citizens from the mainland are visiting the democratically ruled island for the first time.
The cause of the ghastly bus fire remains unclear.
Highway police said surveillance cameras installed along the highway showed flames coming from the front of the bus before it collided with the crash barrier.
“We are still investigating the cause of the accident,” a police spokesman said.
Taiwan’s tourism bureau said the tourists were all from Dalian in Liaoning province. They had arrived in Taiwan on July 12, and were heading to the airport to return to the mainland on Tuesday.
According to reports, the tourists who had been on an eight-day trip to Taiwan’s scenic spots: the Sun Moon Lake and Alishan, a mountainous resort, in Central Taiwan, made a brief stop to shop for duty-free goods before boarding the bus again, on their way to the airport.
Firefighters said the blaze took about 30 minutes to be extinguished.
A local tour bus company official said the bus that caught fire had eight different emergency exits and he had no idea why none of the people on board had survived.
A truck driver, who tried in vain to help people on the burning bus, told the SET cable television channel: “I heard some people shouting for help, but I had no idea how many people were in the bus.”
He said when he saw the bus was on fire he stopped his truck and tried unsuccessfully to help rescue people inside. “I then called the emergency services for help,” he said.
“The charred bodies of nine victims were found close together in the rear part of the bus, indicating that they might have tried to escape from the emergency exit there when the front of the bus was on fire,” a fireman from the Taoyuan Fire Department said.