SCMP Thursday, September 27, 2001
Crash relatives criticise search
MARTIN WONG, MICHELLE CHAK and CHOW CHUNG-YAN
Victims' families of Sunday's coach crash involving a Hong Kong tour group plan to protest outside the Sichuan provincial government offices in Chengdu tomorrow.
The 23 relatives, staying in Maowen town near where the accident happened, said last night they were disappointed with the searches carried out by mainland authorities.
A search for victims continued without success yesterday. Rescuers using rudimentary methods were unable to locate the doomed coach.
One representative of the relatives said: "The search today is completely useless and meaningless. We want to see some more effective searches. The authorities have so far laid all the blame on the car driver, but nobody has inquired why the trip was continued in bad weather."
The relatives are worried that they will not be able to collect the $1.3 million compensation offered if bodies cannot be found. Families will hold roadside rites at the scene today before returning to Chengdu.
Three bodies had been recovered and nine people were still missing, according to some mainland authorities. The accident happened near Maowen when the coach, en route to Jiuzhaigou national park, plunged 12 metres into the Minjiang river after colliding head-on with a car.
A spokeswoman for Security Bureau said three more bodies had been found.
"Sichuan tourism authorities said they had found three more bodies. But these bodies still have to be identified. If the relatives want to bring the bodies back to Hong Kong, they need to apply for a document at the immigration department, but so far we haven't heard anything from them," she said.
The car driver has been arrested on suspicion of causing the accident by careless driving. The bus was carrying 18 people, including the mainland driver and a guide, on a visit organised by Kwan Kin Travel Services in Hong Kong. Four Hong Kong people were rescued along with two mainlanders.
Victims' relatives looked on from the shore as the search continued yesterday, some of them crying. As rescuers worked below her, the daughter of missing woman Lam Po-kuen cried out: "Come back quickly, mum."
The search resumed with two rescuers suspended in an iron cage from a crane. They were lowered to the river and then used a three-metre-long rod to reach down into the water in an attempt to find bodies. They also tried submerging a large magnet in an attempt to locate the coach. Both efforts were in vain.
Four relatives who travelled to Chengdu to identify bodies joined those who had been there since Monday.
Chan Yong, deputy head of Maowen Public Security Bureau, said they had enlarged the search areas into neighbouring towns.
"Maowen alone has sent out 400 rescue workers to search for survivors. We also sent divers to search the bottom of the Minjiang river. But so far we can't find anything. Rescue attempts are also being made at Wenchuan on the lower part of the river."
Wat Siu-kee, one of the four Hong Kong survivors, would return to the SAR today, said Anki Chiu Yu-ming, assistant general manager of Kwan Kin Travel Services.
Mr Wat, who suffered serious fractures in the coach crash, will be transferred to a local hospital for further treatment.