At around 3 am on December 24, 2016, an express bus enroute to Kuala Lumpur from Johor Bahru with 30 passengers on-board plunged off a 10-metre ravine before crashing into a concrete wall along the North-South Highway near Pagoh and Yong Peng intersections. Fourteen passengers perished while sixteen others sustained various degrees of injuries.
Rescue teams from Muar, Yong Peng and Bukit Gambir Fire & Rescue Service, Muar Hospital, Police and Civil Defence Department, were deployed to the scene immediately. Those injured were sent to Sultanah Fatimah Specialist Hospital in Muar.
Soon after receiving the news of the accident, volunteers from Tzu Chi Muar rushed to the hospital to offer care and emotional support to the survivors and their families. Some went straight to the Emergency Department’s waiting area, while others waited outside the mortuary. Volunteers also brought bottled water and bread for those in need. A sombre mood enveloped the hospital as families arrived at the mortuary one after another to claim the bodies of their loved ones. As some only arrived late at night, volunteers stayed back to offer consolation and hand out condolence cash.
Fatal crash tore families apart
Divided into groups, Oh Bee Peng and other volunteers approached the hospital staff, police and media reporters for the passenger name list. They could only visit the warded passengers during visiting hours to render their care and assistance, as only family members were permitted entrance at other times.
One of the survivors, Miyarseh from Indonesia, sustained multiple injuries on her face and fractured her left leg. Unfortunately, her husband, Zakeer bin Zubir, the bus driver, and her 11-month-old daughter did not survive the crash. As she was still in bereavement over the demise of her loved ones, the hospital decided to place her in a private ward. In the ward, volunteers held her hand tightly and listened attentively as she recounted memories of her loved ones. They also presented condolence cash to express sympathy and for her emergency use. The couple had been married for four years and was blessed with three children. Miyarseh and her daughter were travelling on her husband’s bus for the first time, as they were supposed to return to Penang after arriving in Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, the ill-fated trip had torn her family apart.
On the evening of December 27, volunteer Tan Su Lee returned to hospital to find Miyarseh’s family arranging for her transfer back to Penang. At her family’s request, volunteers helped to arrange for a St John ambulance to take her back to Penang. In addition, volunteers also handed them Tzu Chi’s journal and told them to contact Tzu Chi volunteers in Penang if they needed any help.
Aid and comfort to survivors amid tragedy
Many broken hearts had found comfort in the company of Tzu Chi volunteers. One of them was Ral Za Uk, a Burmese refugee, who was injured in the accident. When he came out from the emergency unit with bandage wrapped around the head, volunteers were quick to comfort him. They discovered that the latter works in Johor Bahru and was on his way to Kuala Lumpur on some errands. Besides presenting the cash aid, volunteers also wished him a speedy recovery.
Upon request from the police, volunteers accompanied Ral to the police station to file a report and claim his belongings. Seeing him in torn and dirty clothes, volunteers Tan Jyh Woei and Loo Heng Ken brought him to the second-hand section in Tzu Chi recycling centre for some clothes to change. Over there, Ral expressed his wish to continue the journey to Kuala Lumpur by bus.
Along the way, Ral gripped the volunteer’s hand but remained silent throughout the journey. They stopped for a meal before heading to the bus station. At the station, volunteers bought him a ticket and waited for his bus to arrive. Before leaving, he turned to the volunteers and said, “Thanks for your help. I won’t be able to get through this hurdle alone.” After sending him off, volunteers returned to the hospital to attend to others.
Assistance to passengers and their family members
Twenty-five-year-old Kesavan and his fiancée worked in Singapore and were travelling to Seremban on the ill-fated bus for their Christmas holidays. He was seriously injured with multiple bone fractures and cuts, and sadly, his fiancée died at the scene. The tragedy had dashed their dream of tying the knot in March 2017.
As Kesavan’s mother was not proficient in Malay, she sought volunteers’ help in enquiring about her accommodation in the hospital so that she could care for her son. After checking with the hospital’s welfare unit, she was indeed entitled to free accommodation. With volunteers’ help, she filled up the form promptly.
On December 27, volunteers revisited Kesavan at the hospital. They learnt from his family that he had just undergone a leg surgery the day before, yet he yearned to return home to Kajang soon. However, the doctor advised that he needed to be hospitalized for at least two weeks for observation.
As Kesavan’s mother came to Muar in a hurry, she did not pack much clothing, and was hoping if volunteers could provide her with some long pants and towels. Volunteers were happy to fulfil her wish with some clothes from the second-hand section.
Since the accident, volunteers have been visiting the warded passengers and their family members for follow-up care and assistance. Hopefully, such genuine companionship would give them the strength to face the painful event. Up till December 27, Tzu Chi Muar had handed out condolence cash to 20 families of deceased and injured passengers. It was a token of blessings from everyone, for the deceased to rest in peace and the survivors to find solace and strength to face the life ahead.
Kesavan was seriously injured with multiple bone fractures and cuts. Volunteers visited him in the ward and assisted his mother. [Photograph by Tan Su Lee]
Volunteer Er Chin Kok presented condolence cash to Ral Za Uk, a Burmese passenger, and wished him a speedy recovery. [Photograph by Tan Su Lee]