Few injured, but many shaken at Loterie FarmPOSTED: 07/20/12 12:53 PM
PIC PARADIS, St. Martin – The serenity of the Pic Paradis hillside was disturbed on Thursday morning as the island barely averted a major disaster. It looked like a case of life imitating art like the movie Speed, as the driver of a 49 seater tour bus lost control of the vehicle as it was descending the steep incline of the Loterie Farm road and plunged headlong into a ditch. The bus, belonging to Dutch Tours Enterprises N.V, had thirty nine tourists on board at the time of the incident – estimated to be 11:45 hrs.
While the driver of the vehicle registered as T-34 escaped unscathed, another taxi driver for T-67, Dennis, was not so lucky. He was driving a smaller taxi bus heading out of the Loterie Farm when the 39, 744 pound tour bus collided into his taxi causing it to turn turtle. Dennis was reportedly seriously injured while the seven passengers he was transporting received minor injuries.
American Matt Steed and his wife were on tour bus T-34. He said that he was lucky to be alive after the traumatic ordeal.
“Just after we went through the Loterie Farm gate we felt the driver hit the brakes but no brakes, and then the bus just started careening down. About half way down we hit a speed bump and everyone hit the ceiling and then the bus just continued rolling down the hill. There was a guy driving coming up the hill while we were going down so we ran into him, flipped that vehicle over and then ran straight down into the ditch. Tree branches got into the bus and many people received whip lashes from the branches. Everyone was screaming manically, we thought we were plunging to our deaths but the tree saved us. The bus driver was pretty much shook up though.”
Knocked over Loterie Farm sign, broken mango tree branches, overturned boulders and the destruction of vegetation were tell-tale signs of the small barricades that may have reduced the speed of the tour bus 34.
The Gendarmerie responded to the scene quickly and immediately began conducting investigations while trying to calm frantic tourists. Seven emergency vehicles, five of which were ambulances also picked up the injured to be transported to the Louis-Constant Fleming Hospital for initial treatment and in some cases further observation. Taxi driver, Dennis was said to have gotten a broken foot.
Dutch Tours Enterprises N.V dispatched another tour bus to the scene to pick up other passengers but that vehicle ended up colliding into the entrance gate of the Loterie Farm as its driver was reversing in front of the area. That incident resulted in the left rear end of the substitute bus being ripped off.
The President of the Collectivité d’Outre Mer de Saint Martin, Alain Richardson, arrived on the scene of the accident shortly after the injured had been transported to the hospital. Members of the Gendarmerie informed Richardson about the situation.
“We do not know exactly what happened yet, but it is important to investigate it,” he told this newspaper,
Richardson did not want to speculate about the technical condition of the bus, because there was no conclusive evidence that the accident was caused by malfunctioning brakes.
“But it is of course important that buses that transport our tourists are in a good technical condition,” he said.
The president observed that it is fortunate that none of the injured are in a life threatening condition, adding that the accident could have easily have ended in a drama, given the fact that the bus missed a mango tree by a hair.
Rue de Pic Paradis resident Jose Flanders said that he was always concerned about heavy traffic traversing in the area.
“I feel like they have to do something about the road system here. You cannot have a road that is so narrow and all of these big buses coming in and out. This was always my fear, that one day something would go wrong. People have to squeeze to get in and squeeze to get back out. So when I see the buses going up this morning and then a short while after I see the ambulances racing going up the street, I knew that my worst fears had come through.”
Attempts to reach Samir Andrawos at Dutch Tours for a comment about the accident proved fruitless yesterday afternoon. A lady who did not identify herself just said, “We don’t know what happened yet and we are not giving out any information at the moment. Just send us an email with your questions,” before hanging up the phone without providing an email address.
Another driver of the French Taxi Association, who rushed to the scene to check on the condition of his colleagues said that he was distraught by the incident. Having conducted tours for the past 15 years, he met Dennis on job.
“This should not be happening because these buses ought to go through the same kind of tests that regular vehicles do. I don’t know if it was a mechanical problem or human error but transportation on the whole is a serious safety issue. We have to always make sure that our vehicle is road worthy, we have the lives of people in our hand.”