One of the worst road disasters in KwaZulu-Natal’s history has claimed 27 lives as a runaway articulated truck coming down Fields Hill ploughed into four fully-laded minibus taxis and several cars in Pinetown on Thursday night.
The four taxis had just entered the intersection of Old Main Road and the M13 offramp when the truck, carrying a container, hurtled down the offramp. It cut a swath of destruction as it hit peak-hour traffic on the off-ramp, before obliterating the four taxis in the intersection, a witness said. It ended up on the on-ramp back onto the highway. Bodies were left strewn across the road.
Many of the victims, who were on their way home after work, were ripped from their seats. About 32 others were injured, 10 critically.
The same truck had allegedly smashed into two other cars on the M13 near Kloof, according to a paramedic from Voluntary Emergency Medical Services (VEMA).
Wreckage of the taxis was scattered along the road – one had its entire frame removed from its chassis; its bloodied seats the only clue that people had sat there.
Another vehicle that could not be identified was almost completely destroyed. Small pieces of wreckage, and a body, could be seen alongside it on the grass.
The truck driver was arrested for, among other things, alleged reckless driving.
The truck owner, speaking to the Daily News on Friday, said he had not slept after hearing about accident.
One of the heroes of the accident, apart from the many rescue workers, was off-duty metro police inspector Clive Mavundla who watched the disaster unfold before his eyes.
Mavundla was in the back seat of a taxi travelling on Old Main Road, a multi-lane carriageway with four lanes on either side.
He said the four taxis – two car-lengths in front of him – were all lined up at the head of each lane, at a red traffic light.
“The traffic lights went green and as the cars started to go, a truck came out of nowhere and wiped out all four taxis that were in front,” he said, speaking in his personal capacity.
“There was utter silence in the taxi, people were shocked… I was seated at the back of the taxi (in uniform) watching this unfold,” he said. “I realised what had happened and immediately forced my way out of the taxi and immediately called the (police) station for help, then other people in the taxi started to help.”
Mavundla said he came to the aid of many of the survivors who were trapped in the various taxis.
“We tried to stop motorists and bystanders and called them to assist. We had to push over some of the taxis to free the people that were stuck inside,” he said.
“People were hurt, some were slightly injured, but those who were injured badly, were injured really badly.
“Some couldn’t even respond when you talked to them.”
Transport MEC Willies Mchunu, who rushed to the scene from an ANC meeting in KwaNdengezi, was shocked at the carnage: “I have seen things that have frightened me in my life, but not this, this bad.”
“I am devastated. We have not even buried those 10 young girls who lost their lives tragically in the Reed Dance, and now we have this disaster… If someone told us we are cursed in KwaZulu-Natal, you would believe them,” he said, shaking his head.
Mchunu said authorities would immediately start investigating the truck’s braking system, where it was coming from and where it was going and also whether the driver was avoiding paying tolls on the N3.
“In a small space of time, we have lost more than 50 lives on our roads, it is frightening,” the MEC said. “We must now start preparing for another funeral, it is a shock.”
The Daily News reported on Thursday that 334 lives have been lost on KZN roads in July and August.
Acting Premier, Senzo Mchunu, said the whole province should mourn the mass deaths and urged people to pray for the victims’ families.
“It (the accident) is unprecedented in the recent past; it has not happened for a long time that we lose so many lives in one accident. We are quite devastated, horrified and deeply saddened…”
The DA’s eThekwini caucus leader, Zwakele Mncwango, also expressed shock, saying he would visit the scene today to lay flowers in honour of those who died.
Meanwhile, the acting premier has called for all transport companies – taxis, buses and trucks – to be responsible and ensure that their vehicles were in a roadworthy condition.
“We are calling on transport companies to be extraordinarily cautious, check your brakes and the roadworthiness of your vehicles before you allow them to the roads. Check all the time and be vigilant,” said Mchunu.