In great pain and agony, survivors of the Modern Coast bus accident that killed 35 people at the notorious Nithi bridge on Sunday evening spoke about their horrific experience from their beds at Chuka County Referral Hospital.
Mwashiradi Kipele, James Otieno and Hassan Mukoko were among nine passengers who survived the crash with serious injuries.
Mr Otieno boarded the bus at Maua with his two sons, John Ochieng and Nicholas Ariyo, and the latter’s girlfriend Agnes Kagwira. The couple died, while Mr Ochieng is receiving specialist treatment at a hospital in Nairobi for a spinal cord injury.
They had travelled from Mombasa to a village in Igembe North constituency in Meru County to meet Ms Kagwira’s parents and kinsmen for dowry negotiations. They were returning to the Coast when the accident happened.
Mr Kipele and Mr Mukoko are students at Meru University of Science and Technology and Meru National Polytechnic, respectively.
They boarded the bus in Meru town and were destined for Mombasa.
Mr Mukoko was travelling with his wife and their three-month-old son, whose whereabouts he didn’t know when he spoke to the media on Tuesday evening. He was taking his son to see his grandfather for the first time and had called to inform the family that they were on the way.
According to Mr Otieno, the bus had mechanical problems from the start of the journey and had failed to start in Maua.
When the engine finally ignited, they left Maua but the driver, Paul Murithi Kamau, drove slowly and on arrival at a place in Igembe Central constituency, he stopped to find a mechanic, who inspected the bus for a few minutes before they left.
On the slopes, the driver slowed down and Mr Otieno could hear abnormal sounds when the gears changed though he was sitting in the back.
“I sat in seat number 38, while my colleagues sat in seats 36, 39 and 40, but I could still hear that the driver was struggling to drive the bus, especially on hills and slopes because he had to engage a low gear,” Mr Otieno said.
The driver stopped in Meru town for a few minutes to pick up more passengers, filling the bus to full capacity. It is at this point that Mr Kipele and Mr Mukoko boarded.
On reaching the Nithi bridge, the driver tried to engage a low gear but this time he was not successful, according to Mr Mukoko, and the bus started going faster.
The driver struggled to control the vehicle and managed to negotiate two corners, but he was not lucky in the third one at the bridge.
After noticing that the bus was out of control, Mr Mukoko started praying to God to save them, and in the twinkling of an eye, the vehicle hit the guard rail on the bridge and plunged into the river about 40 metres below.
Mr Mukoko was thrown out of the bus through a window as it descended and he fell on the riverbank before losing consciousness.
“Even when I fell down, I continued to pray to God to save my family and the rest of the passengers and I remember some people carrying me to a pickup truck before I lost consciousness,” said Mr Mukoko, who broke one leg in two places.
He said he regained consciousness on Monday and found himself at the hospital but could not find his son and wife.
“I have been asking doctors the whereabouts of my family but they are telling me that they are okay, though I suspect otherwise,” he said as tears rolled down his cheek.
Mr Kipele, who was sitting next to a school mate he identified as Mark, said he only remembered two people asking him to cooperate so that they could carry him to a waiting ambulance and then he lost consciousness. He broke his leg and suffered soft tissue injuries.
Though doctors said Mr Otieno had no fracture, he still insisted that he was feeling great pain in his chest and waist.
When he spoke to the media, Mr Otieno had already learned that Mr Ochieng suffered a spinal cord injury and had been transferred to a hospital in Nairobi, while Mr Ariyo and his girlfriend, Ms Kagwira, were no more.
The three said that though the bus sounded faulty all the way from Maua, the driver and the conductor Simon Nzighe (both deceased) did not alert passengers, not even at the Nithi bridge when it went loose.
A dark cloud engulfed Chuka and Chogoria PCEA Mission hospitals on Monday and Tuesday as relatives viewed the bodies of their departed loved ones in great sorrow.
Tharaka Nithi County Commissioner Nobert Komora called off the rescue and recovery mission on Monday night after accounting for all the passengers.
The government suspended the operations of the Modern Coast bus company as it investigates whether the bus was roadworthy.