A tour bus carrying visitors from China burst into flames Tuesday on a highway near the Taiwanese capital, killing all 26 people onboard, according to local news reports.
Twenty-three tourists and one Chinese guide died in the accident west of Taipei, which officials cited by Taiwan’s Central News Agency said is the country’s deadliest incident involving tourists from mainland China.
A Taiwanese driver and guide also reportedly were among the dead.
The tour group was reportedly en route to the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport west of Taipei when the crash occurred. The accident appears to have been well-recorded; CNA cited surveillance footage that showed the bus “belching smoke” before hitting a guardrail:
“Other images showed the bus after it rammed into a guardrail on the outer edge of the freeway with flames erupting out of its windows.
“It was unclear at what point the fire broke out and what caused it or why the driver did not pull the bus over while it was belching smoke.
“Firefighters who arrived on the scene needed 30 minutes to put out the blaze, and found most of the victims piled up near the emergency exit door located behind the fifth row in the bus.”
Taoyuan fire chief Lai Chi-chong said that “there was not enough time for them to escape,” according to The Associated Press.
CNA reports that the bus driver obtained his license to operate such vehicles last October and had since acquired two traffic violations.
Some 83 Chinese nationals are reported to have died in Taiwan since it opened to Chinese tourism in 2008, according to the AP, which notes that several were killed in bus crashes, including a 2010 accident that left 19 dead.
“The latest accident,” the news service says, “is likely to revive safety concerns surrounding the treatment of Chinese tourists, most of whom come on cheap group tours.”
Although Taiwan functions like an independent nation, the mainland People’s Republic of China does not recognize the island as a sovereign state.
China is reportedly sending officials to aid the victims’ families.