NEWS

Bus plunges into river

A routine intercity bus ride from Thessaloniki to Athens late on Saturday night, with an experienced driver at the wheel, turned into one of Greece’s worst road accidents in decades when the KTEL bus flew off a bridge and plunged 15 meters down into the frigid waters of the Aliakmon River. Of the 23 people aboard, 14 were killed (including the driver), eight were injured and a little boy was still missing last night. Two of the injured were fighting for their lives yesterday. Minutes after the accident, a massive rescue operation swung into operation, with emergency workers rushing from Thessaloniki about 35 kilometers (22 miles) to the north and from the nearby town of Katerini. Using cranes and stepladders they got down to the bus, which was on its side, partially submerged in about a meter-and-a-half of water and mud. As the first footage flickered onto television screens, viewers were chilled by the sight of a mother crying for her children as she stood, waist deep, in the frozen water near the bus from which she had emerged minutes earlier. «Hurry, hurry. My children. My children. Stella, Thanassi,» Aphrodite Senia, 31, cried over and over. But Stella, 8, was dead. Thanassi, 3, had disappeared in the dark waters. At least one of the children had been crying for its mother for about 10 minutes after the accident, another survivor said. Mrs Senia, an immigrant from Albania, was being treated in a Thessaloniki hospital yesterday and had not been told the truth about her children. Her husband, Anestis, took part in the search for little Thanassi. The effort will continue today. A dam up river closed its gates to allow the water level to drop. The cause of the accident was being investigated. The broad, straight highway was not slippery at the time and the bridge is well lit. Transport Minister Christos Verelis said the bus appeared to be speeding. The tachometer indicated it was going at 102 kilometers per hour when it crashed. There were no skid marks before the point where the bus broke through the metal protective barriers. An autopsy found driver Christos Tolios, 38, died from injuries sustained in the crash and there was no apparent pathological cause for the accident. Tissue was taken for toxicological tests to see if he had been under the influence of any substance. Colleagues said he was rested and experienced, driving the same route for the past 10 years. «As our driver was passing a truck on the bridge, he lost control and we went over the side. We fell 15 meters,» 21-year-old soldier Anastassios Kollias, told reporters «When you fall 15 meters your bones should shatter. But some of us were lucky… I am sorry so many lives were lost. When you speed, you fall.» The government and opposition declared their sorrow at the accident.