PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thirteen Malaysians were killed in a horrific bus accident near Chiang Mai, Thailand, after their driver, who was fleeing from an earlier collision with a pick-up truck, veered the bus off a mountainous highway.
Four other Malaysians were seriously injured while five suffered slight injuries in the accident, which happened at about 12.20pm on Sunday (Dec 20).
Malaysian Ambassador to Thailand Datuk Nazirah Hussain confirmed the numbers of the dead and injured.
"Thai police have not released the full list of those killed yet. The embassy is working closely with the Thai authorities to render assistance to the injured and to contact their next of kin," she told The Star.
The tour bus with 22 Malaysian tourists was seen speeding along the 43km mark of Thailand's highway No 118 through the Ban Pang Fan village in Doi Saket district located between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces in the north before the driver lost control of the vehicle.
According to local news reports, the bus crashed into a car, skidded off the road and rammed into a power cable pole before tumbling down a slope lined with boulders and trees.
Eleven died at the scene while two others were pronounced dead on arrival at the Doi Saket hospital nearby.
Besides the Malaysians, the bus, operated by Weerapan Tour and Travel Limited, was carrying three other passengers and a Thai tour guide.
The Nation quoted rescue worker Uthai Pollaharn as saying that the bus driver had fled an earlier accident with a pick-up truck in the Danmae Kajan area of Chiang Rai.
Truck driver Krissana Fongdawirat, who was not hurt, chased after the bus and alerted the police, who also started the search for the bus.
Police found the mangled wreckage of the bus and the bodies of the dead. Rescue workers had to use heavy machinery to cut through the bus to rescue some of the injured and also to retrieve the bodies.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak expressed his condolences to the victims' families.
"I am saddened to hear about the accident in Chiang Mai where 13 of our people perished. I offer my condolences to the families of the victims," he said in a tweet.
"The government will ensure that efforts be made to bring their remains home and assistance be given to families of Malaysian victims."
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also sent his condolences.
"Hope that our ambassador will do the best in the arrangement for the remains," he said in his tweet.