Abu Dhabi: Police are investigating the cause of an accident on Saturday night involving a bus load of returning Haj pilgrims, which left one 12-year-old Emirati boy dead and 37 injured, three of them seriously.
"A case is being registered against the driver and we are also approaching the bus operating company as to why only one driver was available to drive the bus on such a long route," said a senior police official.
However, he did not give any more details about the case. Normally, at least two drivers need to be on board for such a long journey.
Meanwhile, Gulf News discovered through interviews with accident victims that the driver was drowsy and did not rest despite requests from passengers. The driver was also fined by the police at least twice before the accident for overtaking and speeding.
Passengers said the second driver left the bus at the last moment and the agency asked them to wait for another driver but the passengers grew impatient and decided to move on with one driver.
"We asked him to park the bus and sleep for a while and he himself wanted to do that but he continued to drive. We also noted the bus swerved a few times," said Najeeb Al Amiri, an Emirati, who is being treated at Al Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi for a fractured leg.
"The company told us that two drivers would be on board and we were surprised to find out later that only one driver would be available.
"I have travelled with the agency which provided the bus service at least four times before and never had any problem with them in the past. I really don't understand what happened this time," said Al Amiri.
Describing the accident, Al Amiri said: "I was sitting right next to the driver. I saw the accident happen in front of me. I vaguely remember, he was sleeping at the time when the bus collided with a trailer ahead of us.
"One of the passengers also shouted to warn him but in vain."
Syrian bus driver, Mohammad Essam Al Ham-awey, is still lying in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital in critical condition.
The bus driver, who had bandages around his face and head, told Gulf News he has a sister in Al Ain who was told of the accident on Monday morning.
The rest of his family is in Syria. He was too weak to explain anything about the accident.
Another Emirati accident victim, Hashim Yousuf Mahmoud Al Marzouqi, said the driver was sleepy even before he began the journey.
"We were astonished to find the second driver leaving our bus. We were asked to wait for a second driver to arrive, but all the passengers became inpatient and grew tired of waiting. The driver himself assured us he would be able to manage driving back on his own, for that reason we agreed and hit the road instantly."
'MY SON IS DYING'
Dead boy switched seats seconds before crash
Just a few moments before the fatal accident, Ahmad Al Khayal, the 12-year-old Emirati boy who died, changed seats from the fifth row, to behind the bus driver, witnesses said.
When the bus hit a trailer, Ahmad was badly injured and shocked passengers heard the boy's father asking them to say prayers for his son. "The boy seemed to be gasping for breath and ready to pass away at any moment," said Hashem Yousuf Mohammad Al Marzouki, a passenger.
Ali Al Khayal, the boy's father later told Gulf News that he buried his son in Sharjah yesterday. "What has happened was 'God's will.' We are not seeking any blood money from the driver," he said. According to earlier reports the bus driver was speeding when he crashed.
Ahmad was described as a cheerful and intelligent child who was studying at the Shaikh Sultan Saqr School in Falaj, Sharjah.
Accident victim Najeeb Al Amiri said when the bus finally stopped after the crash, he felt blood running down his leg. "I heard the boy's father asking everyone to say prayers for his son, who he said was dying.
"I have known Ahmad since he was a little boy. He was a smart kid. This was his first visit to Makkah, God bless his soul," he said.