Mecca bus accident: 'We were afraid bus would explode,' say pilgrims on emotional return

Relatives greeting pilgrims who were caught in the bus accident in Mecca, after they returned to Singapore on March 25, 2018.
Relatives greeting pilgrims who were caught in the bus accident in Mecca, after they returned to Singapore on March 25, 2018.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Relatives greeting pilgrims who were caught in the bus accident in Mecca, after they returned to Singapore on March 25, 2018.
Relatives greeting pilgrims who were caught in the bus accident in Mecca, after they returned to Singapore on March 25, 2018.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Relatives greeting pilgrims who were caught in the bus accident in Mecca, after they returned to Singapore on March 25, 2018.
Relatives greeting pilgrims who were caught in the bus accident in Mecca, after they returned to Singapore on March 25, 2018.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim speaking to a friend of one of the pilgrims who went to Mecca, at Changi Airport, on March 25, 2018.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim speaking to a friend of one of the pilgrims who went to Mecca, at Changi Airport, on March 25, 2018.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - In the chaotic moments after the tour bus she was in collided with a trailer truck, student Siti Shuhaidah Salleh, 21, feared the worst.

"Both the front and back door of the bus were stuck, the air smelled of petrol. All of us were afraid the bus was going to explode, people were screaming," she said, adding that most of the passengers had been sleeping at the time of the accident.

Eventually, someone managed to force an opening via the luggage compartment near the back door. The injured and immobile were carried through the small gap.

"I was just relieved all of us got out of the bus safely, " she said.

Ms Siti Shuhaidah was one of 31 Muslim pilgrims on the bus involved in the fatal accident in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday (1pm Singapore time).

Haji Mohammad Abu Bakar Osman, 64, director of Abu Bakar Travel Services - the family-run travel agency behind the trip - was killed in the crash.

There were emotional scenes at Changi Airport Terminal 2 as twenty-nine of the pilgrims returned on Sunday (March 25) afternoon. The more than 50 relatives and friends at airport greeted them with tearful hugs.

Ms Hajah Fauziah Alias - the wife of Haji Mohammad Abu Bakar - and two other pilgrims are still hospitalised in Saudi Arabia.

The group - which had arrived in Mecca on March 12 for the pilgrimage called " umrah" - were heading to Taif, a city about 1½ hours away from their hotel, when the accident happened.

 
 

Haji Mohammad Abu Bakar's nephew Muhd Dion Khudairi Mohamed Ali, 46, said his uncle planned Taif as a surprise destination on the itinerary.

He believes the trailer was making an illegal U-turn on the two-lane highway when the bus collided with it.

There was a scramble to get everyone clear of the bus, Mr Muhd Dion Khudairi said, even if he was limping while doing so.

Ms Siti Shuhaidah's first instinct after the crash was to look out for her family - and she realised her 74-year-old grandfather and sister had been flung to the front of the bus. They had minor injuries.

Her uncle, 46, had the most severe injury of her six relatives on the trip with a dislocated hip. She escaped with minor injuries herself, including a cut on her chin.

It was when the pilgrims were safely at the side of the road and checking on one another that they realised their tour leader was not among them.

"Paramedics brought his body out, covered in white cloth, about half an hour later," she said, adding that the pilgrims were crying quietly and saying prayers as they filed past Haji Mohammad Abu Bakar's body.

Haji Mohammad Abu Bakar's sister, Ms Aina Osman, 68, was clearly emotional as she spoke about her brother on Sunday.

"I'm just imagining he is one of those coming back... it feels like he is still on umrah."

Mr Adam Noor, 59, who was there to receive his wife Norsimah, 56, said he had been having sleepless nights since he found out about the accident.

He said before she arrived: "I keep thinking of her safety, even on the flight back. I hope they touch down safely."

Mr Adam, a nurse, could not make the pilgrimage due to work. He said he wished he could have been at the scene to give aid.

Minister-in-charge-of-Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, who was at the airport to greet the pilgrims, said on Sunday (March 25) that agencies like Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), the Association of Muslim Travel Agents Singapore and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are helping the families affected. He also thanked the Saudi authorities for their help.