Search and rescue operations for passengers involved in a deadly train, truck and car collision near Kroonstad on Thursday morning have been suspended until heavy-duty machinery arrives from Mafikeng.
Departmental spokesperson Mondli Mvambi said all the passengers who survived the accident have been removed from the scene.
“The availability of the extra heavy-duty machinery can only help to recover the dead who might be trapped in the carriages,” Mvambi told News24.
While Mvambi said that 14 people died and 180 people were injured in the accident, Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) CEO Nathi Khena said 18 fatalities have been counted.
Speaking to eNCA, Khena said one of the saddest parts of the accident was the fact that people died as a result of being trapped inside carraiges that burnt out.
“It means is that they couldn’t escape the train that had derailed and, as a result, they [were] then [burnt] to death and this is very tragic,” Khena said.
“We (Prasa) would never forget this incident and we are going to do all in our power to make sure that justice is done for our commuters.”Khena said the heavy-duty machinery was set to arrive within 36 hours to restore the railway line’s service to normal.
On Thursday afternoon, Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi said the truck driver, who collided with the train, “was taking chances”.
“He thought he was going to pass through,” Maswanganyi said at a briefing held at the accident scene, which was broadcast by eNCA.
“Little did he know that the train was going to hit him, [which] has cost many lives.”
Maswanganyi, who was attending the funeral of a former Free State department of transport head in the area, said the identities of the deceased would be released later.
“We also want to [send] a message of condolence to the families of the deceased. We can’t, for now, confirm as to who those passengers are.”