The driver of a bus was charged Monday after the vehicle carrying wedding guests rolled over on a foggy night in Australia’s wine country, killing 10 people and injuring 25 in the nation’s most deadly road accident in almost 30 years, police said.
Brett Button has been in custody since the accident Sunday night and will appear in court on Tuesday on multiple charges of dangerous and negligent driving, a police statement said.
It was Australia’s most deadly road accident since 1994, when a bus skidded on its side across a highway and down a steep embankment in Brisbane, killing 12 people and injuring 38.
Sunday’s crash happened just after 11:30 p.m. in foggy conditions at a roundabout on Wine Country Drive in the town of Greta in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales state north of Sydney.
The guests had attended a wedding at the Wandin Estate Winery and were heading to their accommodations in the town of Singleton, Acting Assistant Commissioner Tracy Chapman said. One guest told Seven News it had been a nice day and a fairytale wedding.
Chapman described a “frantic scene” in the aftermath of the crash.
Emergency responders “were able to smash the front windscreen of the bus in order to pull some people, or assist some people out of the bus”, she said.
“Those that were able to, walked themselves.”
No children were believed to be involved, she added.
A motorist who drove past the crash scene, identified by Australian Broadcasting Corp. only as Alison, said the fog was so heavy she could not make out the colors of the flashing lights of police cars, ambulances and fire trucks.
“The fog was terrible,” she told the ABC. “You could barely see in front of you.”
Of the 25 people injured, one was in critical condition and several others remained in hospitals, the state government said. The conditions of the others were described as stable.
Police had said 18 passengers escaped injury. But they later said there were only 36 people on the bus: the 10 dead, the 25 injured and the driver. The 18 were the least seriously injured among the passengers taken to hospitals.
Police Commissioner Karen Webb said investigators have not yet determined what caused the bus to roll on its side.
“The cause may not be known for some time. It will require scientific examination,” Webb told reporters.
Whether passengers were wearing seatbelts also “will come under scrutiny,” Webb said.
Linq Buslines, which provides school bus and event charters, owned the bus involved in the crash, media reported. Its website says all its buses are equipped with seatbelts.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese thanked first responders and offered government support to victims and their families, saying the “mental scars of this will not go away.”
“For a joyous day like that, in a beautiful place, to end with such terrible loss of life and injury is so cruel and so sad and so unfair,” Albanese told reporters.
“People hire a bus for weddings in order to keep their guests safe. And that just adds to the unimaginable nature of this tragedy,” he said.
Jay Suvaal, the mayor of Cessnock, said the crash was “truly horrific.”
“We are a major wedding and tourist destination in the Hunter Valley, and so there will be people from all over the state and the country that have been to these areas and have probably done similar things,” he said. “I think it will send shock waves right through the broader community.”
Greta is in the heart of the Hunter Valley wine region, a picturesque area dotted with vineyards and restaurants. It was the first wine region established in Australia.
The wedding was in the middle of a long weekend, with Monday a public holiday across most Australian states.
New South Wales Premier Chris Minns sent his “deepest condolences” to the families and loved ones of those killed and injured.
Wedding guests had come together to experience a “day of joy” and had instead been met with “undeniable despair”, he told reporters.
“The next few days and the next few weeks may be worse than the initial shock as it fully comes to the realization of what this community has gone through.”
AFP contributed to this report.
Published: 2023-06-12 10:51:53