Abu Dhabi: A 12-year-old Emirati boy was killed and 37 were injured in a bus accident carrying Haj pilgrims from Saudi Arabia on Saturday night near Abu Dhabi.

The accident happened at Tariff, 69 kms from Abu Dhabi city, after the bus crossed the Ghweifat borderpoint. Most of the passengers were Emiratis from Dubai and Sharjah.

Dr Jihad Abdul Jabbar Awad, Emergency Medicine Specialist, said the young boy died instantly from severe head injuries. "He was sitting behind the driver's seat, so he took the pressure of the crash the hardest and died on the spot."

Two of the injured were flown to Al Mafraq hospital by the air wing of the Abu Dhabi Police.

Major Ahmad Abdullah Al Shamsi, head of the Traffic section at Tariff, said the accident was caused by speeding. "The driver was going at high speed, lost control and hit a truck from behind." The police and hopsital officials said the accident occurred when the driver fell asleep.

In critical condition

Speaking to Gulf News, Brigadier Khalid Al Dosari, Head of the Ambulances and Rescue Department at Abu Dhabi Police, said: "The driver, a Syrian, and three UAE national pilgrims are now in critical condition. They are still at Al Mafraq hospital. Others who are better would be transported home by the police."

Thousands of pilgrims from the UAE and Oman are returning home via the Ghweifat checkpoint, said senior immigration official.

Nearly 20,000 Haj have returned so far, said Major Jamal Al Za'abi, Head of Immigration section at Ghweifat. "As per the instructions of Lieutenant General Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Interior, the police took intensive preparation to receive the pilgrims. Four tents with facilities were set up this month.

"The pilgrims started arriving by road early Saturday. By 6pm the numbers increased significantly. About 750 buses carrying pilgrims have arrived so far. Each bus roughly has around 25-50 passengers," Major Al Za'abi said.

"Once the pilgrims arrive at the checkpoint, it takes around 10-15 minutes to complete the formalities for each bus. Immigration officials split into teams and work simultaneously on several buses to avoid delays."

In hospital: Brush with death

Najeeb Al Amiri, an Emirati, had a lucky escape as he moved from the front seat to the back of the bus just seconds before the accident happened.

Al Amiri, who is currently under treatment at the hospital for injuries and leg fracture, said the bus carrying pilgrims left Makkah on Friday at 11pm.

"There was only one driver available and the road was too long and after 24 hours of leaving Makkah the bus collided. I was sitting next to the young boy that passed away but a few seconds before the accident I got up and walked towards the back to sit in the backseat with my friends. The bus driver was driving between 110-130km per hour," said Al Amiri.

Hashim Yousuf Mahmoud Al Marzouki, another injured Emirati, is suffering from a chest trauma and is under treatment at the hospital. He told Gulf News the driver needed a break from driving too long, and that the distance was too long for only one driver.

"I am feeling much better now," he said.