TERRIFIED passengers were forced to close their eyes and duck their heads as horror unfolded when a Ballarat bus crashed into a bridge on a busy Melbourne street on Monday morning.
Passengers were lucky to escape without serious injury when the front half of a 3.8 metre high Gold Bus Ballarat was destroyed when it collided with a Montague Street bridge. Four people were initially trapped and eleven passengers were injured.
Gold Bus Ballarat director Matthew Baird said he was shocked an accident of this nature had occurred.
The 14 local and international passengers were travelling from a conference to the Novotel in St Kilda on a charter route. No Gold Bus Ballarat regular routes involve travelling under Montague Bridge.
Mr Baird said he had not spoken to the unnamed Ballarat based driver. He did not believe an official police statement had been given as the driver remained sedated in hospital. Eleven passengers were taken to hospital treated for bruising, shock and for general observation.
Emergency services were quick to respond to the incident, which the MFB classed as major. Shortly after firefighters evacuated four trapped people and paramedics put passengers onto stretchers, an unnamed person was seen plastering the bus’ Gold Bus Ballarat sign with grey tape. Mr Baird said this was standard procedure for all company buses involved in accidents and quashed suggestions it was inappropriate.
“We are out to protect our brand and make sure we don’t tarnish our brand,” Mr Baird said. The bus driver was seen slumped on the ground near the bus, with a bloodied face and legs, before he was taken from the scene on a stretcher.
VISION: the moment the bus crashes into the bridge
MFB commander Andrew O’Connell told Fairfax Media the ordeal would have been “absolutely terrifying” for the people on board. Mr O’Connell said the bus seemed to have been driven at considerable speed. Mr Baird could not confirm if that particular bus was fitted with a GPS tracker. He said drivers of heavy vehicles were expected to be aware of height restrictions and limitations. Mr Baird would not say if speed was a factor. He confirmed the accident was “devastating for a local country business that employs local people”.
Police investigations are ongoing.
- with The Age
UPDATE: ELEVEN passengers are in hospital after the bus they were travelling in collided with a bridge in Montague Street, Melbourne at 10.15am.
The bus, owned and operated by Gold Bus Ballarat, was severely damaged and a number of people were trapped.
In a statement the company confirmed 14 passengers were being transferred from a conference to the Novotel in St Kilda when the accident occurred.
The passengers are not believed to be seriously injured and have been conveyed to hospital for minor treatment and observation.
VIEW THE FULL GOLD BUS PRESS CONFERENCE HERE
The driver of the bus also suffered lacerations from the collision and has also been taken to hospital for treatment.
Gold Bus Ballarat director Matthew Baird said the company was working closely with emergency services at the scene.
“Our first priority is the welfare of the passengers and our driver, and assisting emergency services where we can,” Mr Baird said.
“We will issue a further statement as soon as more details are known”, Mr Baird said.
Friends and relatives of passengers are urged to contact Gold Bus Ballarat General Manager, Ross Huntington on (03) 5335 5005 for further information.
All passengers have been freed from a Ballarat bus which crashed into a bridge in South Melbourne.
At least 17 people were on the charter bus, which is part of the Gold Bus Ballarat fleet, which slammed into the light rail overpass near Montague Street about 10.40am on Monday.
Four people were initially trapped on the left side of the bus.
The bus driver was seen slumped on the ground near the bus, with a bloodied face and legs, while firefighters worked frantically to free the passengers still on board.
It took firefighters nearly an hour to free them.
No passengers suffered life threatening injuries.
An Ambulance Victoria spokeswoman said paramedics had treated seven people at the scene, who were all in a stable condition.
They were taken from the scene on stretchers, with braces around their necks.
Metropolitan Fire Brigade commander Andrew O'Connell said the ordeal would have been "absolutely terrifying" for the people on board.
"Luckily...they all ducked their heads and closed their eyes to keep themselves out of trouble. And I think that's actually helped them remarkably keep uninjured," he said.
It is believed the charter bus may have been taking people to a conference.
The roof of the bus and several front seats had to be removed, before firefighters could reach the trapped passengers.
Mr O'Connell said firefighters had made a fantastic effort in managing to free the passengers from such a small area within an hour.
He said the height of the rail bridge would have been just above the passengers' head height.
"When I responded to this particular call it sounded very nasty and I am very grateful ... that when we arrived we found no one with significant injuries," Mr O'Connell said.
"[The bus] seems to have been driven in at considerable speed."
By midday, a two truck was preparing to remove the bus from the scene, while authorities began removing debris from the road.
About the same time, the Gold Bus Ballarat logos on the side of the bus were covered with grey tape. It is not known who did this, or for what reason.
The road is expected to remain closed until at least 5.30pm, while authorities inspect the bridge's safety barrier, a VicRoads spokesman said.
He said a crane was needed to help with the repairs.
Witnesses said it appeared the bus was almost a metre higher than the bridge's minimal clearance, and that it struck the bridge without slowing.
"I just don't understand how he (the driver) could have hit it, it was pretty obvious that he wasn't going to get through," Mr Melhem said.
A local storage business operator, who requested to be known only as Tim, said the crash sounded like a regular car crash.
"Only the sound went on for longer," he said.
He said the bridge was a constant problem for trucks and other tall vehicles.
"Usually it is air conditioning units coming off trucks - it happens every other week," he said.
Tim said there were insufficient warnings for truck and bus drivers travelling underneath the bridge and suggested flashing lights were needed for approaching drivers.
The bus crash is the latest in a series involving rail bridges, the worst of which saw a truck roll over at the intersection of Flinders and Spencer streets bringing the city to a halt on February 1.
A truck also struck a railway bridge at Newmarket this month.
Route 109 trams, which run over the bridge, were suspended for 10 minutes, but services have since resumed.
"It is safe for our trams to be running along there now," a Yarra Trams spokeswoman said.
The spokeswoman said a Yarra Trams operations officer was at the scene working with emergency services.
- with The Age