21 Persons, Most of Them Teenagers on Outing, Killed in Bus-train Collision Near Haifa; 17 Injured

Twenty-one people, most of them junior high school pupils, were killed today and 17 injured when a speeding train crashed into a bus stalled on a railroad crossing south of Haifa.

The authorities said the accident was one of the worst, if not the most disastrous transportation calamity in the country’s history. Several of the injured youngsters were reported to be in serious or critical condition in hospitals in Haifa and Hadera.

All were aged 12-13 and were members of the same seventh grade class at the Brenner Junior High School in Petach Tikva. The victims were in the second bus of a four bus convoy taking them on an outing to a nature preserve near the seashore at Moshav Habonim, about 12 miles south of Haifa.

Four of the dead were adults, including the bus driver, a teacher and two other adults accompanying the children, Israel Radio reported. The Petach Tikva municipality decided to hold a mass funeral tomorrow for the victims. All shops and businesses in the city will be closed in mourning.

NO GATES OR WARNING SIGNALS

The doomed bus, like the others, chartered from the Egged company, was driven by a woman who, according to Egged officials, had several years’ experience. The convoy was travelling on a little used sandy road which crosses the main Tel Aviv-Haifa railway line. The level crossing is one of some 300 on secondary roads which are not equipped with gates or warning lights although the crossing is marked by signs.

According to police accounts, the bus driver slowed down as she approached the crossing and then for reasons unknown, proceeded to drive over the tracks. Police believe that the bus became stuck in the railroad ties or stalled. A Tel Aviv-to-Haifa passenger train slammed into its rear tossing the vehicle 165 feet where it landed on its side.

The locomotive driver, travelling at his authorized speed of 60 mph, sounded a long blast on his whistle when he spotted the bus blocking the track about 600 feet ahead. Railway officials said a train at that speed required 1,825 feet to come to a full stop. The locomotive engineer was treated for shock at a Haifa hospital.

PERES VISITS HOSPITALIZED CHILDREN

Premier Shimon Peres visited the surviving children at the Haifa hospitals where they had been rushed after the collision by ambulance and helicopters. Other survivors and the bodies of the dead were taken to a Hedera hospital.

The Brenner Junior High School was a scene of anguish as scores of parents overcome by anxiety and grief tried to find out if their children were on the fatal bus. Doctors and psychologists were on hand trying to console the parents. The children in the three other buses were sequestered at Moshav Habonim until substitute drivers arrived to transport them back to Petach Tikva. The drivers of the rest of the convoy were all in a state of shock.

Transport Ministry officials said long range plans to provide automatic gates and warning systems at the 300 little used grade crossings were held in abeyance because of budgetary constraints.

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