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Disasters attest to need for escape windows

Published Feb 21, 2011


May 27, 1985, and May 1, 2003, live on in many people’s memories as tragic reminders of what can happen when an emergency exit fails to work.

Forty-two children from the Vorentoe High School lost their lives in May 1985 when the bus in which they were travelling plunged into the Westdene Dam in Johannesburg.

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In 2003, 51 Sol Plaatje municipal workers on their way to a Workers’ Day rally died in the Saulspoort Dam disaster when the driver of the bus apparently took a wrong turn-off in Bethlehem and ended up on a road that led him into a dam.

Judge Hans Rampai found in the Bloemfontein High Court in February 2004 that the Saulspoort victims probably tried without success to open the bus’s emergency exit.

Marcelle Wilsnach, now 41 and one of the lucky survivors of the Westdene bus disaster, last year relived the accident in the hope her chilling testimony could aid in resolving faulty emergency exits.

Wilsnach said she could remember the screams and feeling of utter disbelief as the bus plunged into the dam.

“Pieter Koen, another boy, and I climbed over the back seat and attempted to kick out the emergency exit windows, but if ever a myth was rudely shattered, it happened in that moment. None of the emergency windows even budged an inch. We stopped in time to grasp a final gulp of air and then the water was over our heads and it was silent.”

Years have passed since both these disasters, but the lives of passengers are still at risk because of faulty emergency exits. – Business Report

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