CHINA> Regional
Official fired after bus tragedy that kills 51 
By Huang Zhiling and Yi Xike (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-09-16 06:49

CHENGDU -- The head of the firm that operated the bus that ran off a cliff on Saturday in Bazhong, Sichuan province, killing 51 people, was sacked Monday.

Xian Guangzong, Party secretary of Bazhong Transport (Group) Co Ltd, was told to resign at a conference held yesterday morning by the Bazhong city government.

The government also advised the board of the State-owned company to remove Xian as board chairman and general manager.

Li Zhongbin, Party secretary of Bazhong, and Pu Bo, mayor of the city, said they were "deeply sorry" to the families of the victims.

The Bazhong government said the bodies of all 51 victims have been retrieved and are now in the county funeral home.

"Representatives of China Life Insurance Co have visited the site of the accident to establish what happened," Zhang Yunchang, the county's magistrate, said.

Passengers are required to buy an insurance policy before taking a long-distance bus in China, but the magistrate declined to reveal how much compensation would be paid to the families of the victims.

The bus, carrying three drivers and 48 passengers, two of them children, set off from Bazhong at 9 am on Saturday.

It was scheduled to reach its destination, Ningbo in Zhejiang province, at 5 pm on Sunday.

"But it collided with a railing by the road and nose-dived into a valley in Nanjiang at about 1:40 pm on Saturday," Zhang said.

"Although initial studies show the accident was due to a mechanical failure, the wreckage of the bus is still at the site awaiting experts' appraisal," he said.

Chen Wen, an official with the Bazhong Transport Group, said the bus was not overloaded, nor was it speeding.

"The GPS showed the bus was traveling at 20 kph, and there were no signs of heavy braking at the scene of the accident. Also, the bus was being driven by a skilled driver who had been with the company for 15 years," he said.

The road the bus was traveling on is known to be very dangerous.

"There have been a lot of accidents in this area, and it is known as the gateway to hell," He Xiwen, a truck driver from Yangxian county in Shaanxi, said.

All of the bus passengers were natives of Bazhong who worked in Ningbo. As nearly 40 of them had settled down in Ningbo, their family members in the city had either flown to Chengdu or were taking buses for Bazhong, Li Yaokun, deputy chief of the representative office of the Bazhong government in Ningbo, said.