Policeman helps 66 escape coach inferno
An off-duty policeman is believed to have led the evacuation of more than 60 Sikh women and children shortly before the double-decker bus carrying them home to Bedfordshire from a seaside outing burst into flames.
Several overtaking motorists flashed the driver when they saw smoke pouring from the coach on the M3 on Friday evening and when it pulled on to the hard shoulder the policeman stopped his vehicle and leapt aboard.
The two men cleared the coach shortly before it was engulfed in flames.
The driver had reportedly pulled off the motorway earlier when the smell of burning rubber was brought to his attention, but a decision was taken to travel on to the next service station where a mechanic and a replacement vehicle would be waiting.
Sixty-six women and children were returning to the Sikh temple in Dallow Road, Luton. They were among 200 people on a three-coach outing from the gurdwara.
The Dorset Echo newspaper quoted one passenger, Mrs Inderjeet Buar, as saying:
“We pulled over and a driver who had also stopped, who I believe was an off-duty policeman, ran on to the coach and got everyone off very quickly.
“It all happened in seconds. As we were backing away from the coach there was an explosion, and then another one. It was horrific. The whole thing went up in seconds.”
Fifty-five firefighters fought the blaze for 90 minutes, confronted by heat which melted the motorway surface, said the Echo.
The passengers, wrapped in foil blankets, were looked after by emergency services until a replacement coach arrived.
A police investigation is under way and the Luton-based coach company Premier Travel says it is carrying out an investigation with the Vehicle Inspectorate.
A spokesman for the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK praised the actions of the driver in a statement released on behalf of the coach company.
He said: “The quick thinking and professionalism shown by our driver enabled all of the 66 passengers on board to be promptly evacuated from the vehicle and led to a safe location.
“We praise our driver for not only safely and expertly evacuating the passengers from the coach, but also making sure that other road users were not placed at any risk.”
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