This is a summary of an article that appeared in the Beeld on 28 March 1985
Photos used in this post was sourced from the Beeld but not all (if any) of them appeared in the article.
The death toll would have been much worse if not for the actions of four unidentified men who jumped in the dam and broke windows with their bare hands. Many lives were saved this way.
The children who survived told of complete chaos during the accident. In the panic to get out children stampeded over each other, breaking chairs which in turn injured and stunned others.
Tragic scenes were witnessed at the J.G. Strijdom Hospital and the Johannesburg mortuary where hundreds of terrified parents sat waiting anxiously to hear what happened to their children. Mothers of victims became completely hysterical.
The double-decker bus hit the fence on the bridge within the first third of the bridge and went flying into the dam, coming to rest 10 meters from the wall, opposite the middle of the bridge, where it sank into mud at the bottom.
At the time of this article (and this is the case today), there was no clear cause for the bus to leave the road. The bus swerved left for some unknown reason. It was speculated that another car may have been involved in a collision with the bus but survivor Marcelle Wilsnach is quite clear in his mind about this:
“…there was absolutely no collision with any car. There were 4 buses who [sic] usually took pupils to the Westdene/Triomf area. We were in the last bus and there were no cars between our bus and the one in front of us. I can also categorically confirm that the driver went very fast that day. When a double decker [bus] drives fast, the whole bus shudders, to the extent that you have to shout above the noise to make yourself heard. That was certainly the case that day. Also, the bus didn’t swerve or anything like that. It simply went from a straight line, to a lazy turn, for lack of a better description…”.
Police divers and paramedic teams arrived within minutes (other sources claim civilian divers were first on the scene – or at least equipment supplied by civilians). A boat operated in the water for about 30 minutes to assist divers.
Some children were taken to safety during this time.
A large number of ambulances, emergency vehicles and helicopters arrived on the scene and emergency teams continued to remove trapped victims from the wreckage. Hundreds of bystanders looked on in horror as one young body after the other was brought to the surface.
Doctors on the scene fought to save the lives of children. According to one doctor, the entire tragedy must have taken mere seconds as some children still had sandwiches and chewing gum in their mouths.
An hour after the accident most of the injured had been transported to the hospital. Divers then removed bodies from the top deck of the bus and found more bodies in the bottom section. Attempts were made to lift the bus in an attempt to check the bottom section of the bus for more victims. The bus was still bogged down in the mud at this point.
Hydraulic rescue equipment, “Jaws of Life”, was also used to cut open sections of the bus and the last of the victims were removed.
It was around 7 pm when the bus was finally lifted from the water. The bus had no serious damage and the indicator lights were still flashing. The bell used to indicate that someone wants to get off at the next stop was ringing.
At Parliament, State President P.W. Botha expressed his deepest sympathy with the parents of the deceased. Mr Pik Botha, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed his condolences to the families of the victims. Other parties in the Volksraad (People’s Council) did the same.
An aid fund for the next of kin of the victims and a committee to coordinate the funeral arrangements was set up on request from Minister Pik Botha.
The driver of the bus, Mr W.P. Horn was still in serious condition at the J.G. Strijdom Hospital the night of the accident.
Later in the recovery operations, the bus was lifted off the bottom and out of the silt in an attempt to find the last of the victims. In this photo and the next, it is clear that the bridge didn’t have a sturdy railing or barrier.