Injured passengers on a double-decker bus which overturned in Belfast yesterday have relived the moment they thought they were going to plummet to their deaths off a bridge.
A total of 31 people including the bus driver were injured when the vehicle mounted the footpath outside Central Station and struck the wall of the Albert Bridge.
A pregnant woman, a baby and several children were among the 30 passengers who were flung from their seats among shards of glass as the bus overturned and smashed on to the road.
Some passengers thought the bus was being hijacked when they heard a pedestrian banging a window shortly before the crash.
A young man who was on the upper deck described the terrifying moment when he thought the bus was going to drop around 30 feet off the bridge.
Dean Smyth-Walsh (19) who lives in north Belfast, was sitting on the side of the bus nearest the wall.
“There was a big bang and it all went into slow motion,” he said.
“It was just lucky we didn’t go over the wall and off the bridge.”
Dean, who is originally from London, had been staying with his girlfriend in the Ballybeen estate where the bus began its journey.
The teenager had walked his girlfriend to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald where she works and had boarded the citybound bus to go home.
Little did he imagine he’d be attending the A&E at the Mater hospital at the other end of the city later that afternoon.
The 19-year-old has a suspected broken wrist and suffered whiplash and back pain.
“I was sitting in the middle of the top deck and I heard a man shouting from outside. He banged the window. Some passengers said they thought the bus was being hijacked.
“We felt a little bump which must have been when the driver hit the kerb.
“He steered left, straight into the wall. It was lucky he didn’t go over the wall and off the bridge.
“There was a big bang and it all went into slow motion.
“The bus tipped on to its side and the glass shattered. Everyone was thrown about.
“I had grabbed a pole but was flung off my seat on to the floor. The glass just came in around us.
“Most people had head injuries and were bleeding. There were lots of kids on the bus.”
He described how dazed and bleeding passengers rallied around to help each other get off the bus.
“Everyone was just picking each other up,” he said. “We got off the bus through an emergency exit door.
Two female passengers, who were also treated at the Mater, said they saw a man bang the window of the bus and thought the bus was being hijacked.
“It’s all a blur. We thought we were going off the bridge. It could have been much worse,” said the woman, who didn’t wish to be named.
The bus driver had to be cut from the vehicle and he is believed to be the most seriously injured. This morning, a spokeswoman for the Royal Victoria described his condition as “stable”.
She said he was the only person on board the toppled bus to be admitted to hospital.
Belfast couple Patrick Hillock (22) and Anja Schoeppe (31) were on the top deck of the bus by chance.
Patrick, a barman from the Markets area, and Anja, a call centre supervisor, originally from Berlin, told the Daily Mirror they were terrified as they saw the street below coming towards them.
Anja sustained serious bruising to the right side of her body and received treatment at the Royal Victoria Hospital for a head wound.
“I heard the driver or someone else shouting from downstairs and then we started tilting,” she said. “It was so scary. We had no time to think. All I can remember is people screaming and seeing the street getting closer to the window.”
Emergency services launched its major incident procedures and passengers were whisked to emergency units at the Royal, Belfast City and Mater hospitals.
Most passengers suffered cuts, bruises and sprains.
Nine people were taken to the Royal. Another 10 people attended the City Hospital, while eight went to the Mater. Two children were brought to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and a pregnant woman was brought to the maternity unit at the Ulster Hospital.
Translink spokesman Ciaran Rogan said the bus driver was “quite badly affected”.
“This is the first incident we can recall where a double-decker bus has fallen on its side,” he said.
Translink is assisting police with a full investigation.