A man who forced open the door of a burning Bus Eireann coach has revealed how adrenaline took over him when all doors jammed closed.
A Bus Eireann bus was burnt to a shell after catching fire at Letterkenny’s Dry Arch Roundabout last Thursday night.
The dramatic events took place shortly after the coach had departed on a scheduled journey to Dublin.
The driver and all 15 passengers managed to escape the vehicle shortly before the flames took hold, thanks to a fast-acting passenger.
George Ballantine from Portnablagh was on the bus travelling to Dublin Airport last night. He said his natural instinct took over as the emergency unfolded.
George told Donegal Daily how the situation “could have been a different story today” if passengers couldn’t evacuate.
“I was sitting five rows from the front. I know engineering and cars and how things operate, so as soon as the bus came to a standstill I wanted to get out.
“It was natural instinct. I wasn’t nervous when I did it but I was a bundle of nerves after. Pure adrenaline just took over me. Thank God everyone got out.
“It could have been a different story today, it wasn’t very long before the fumes were inside the bus.”
The Expressway Bus had departed Letterkenny at 7.45pm, but soon afterwards, passengers realised that the driver was having issues with the vehicle.
George said the driver was talking to base before he turned to return to Letterkenny.
“I could feel everything getting worse getting to the roundabout. Coming down the hill into Letterkenny, when the driver was changing down gear, we heard the bang,” George said.
“Everything went dead, there was no power, nothing happened.”
George recalled the frightening moment when the driver attempted to open the door, but it was jammed. At this point, smoke was beginning to fill the cabin.
George said: “The driver was pressing buttons but no matter what he tried to do he couldn’t open the door. He then walked down towards the back of the bus and I dived to the front. I tried to manually open the door by pulling it. Then I spotted this little red lever and I stretched up to get it. I opened it and heard a puff of air. I kicked the door and it opened.”
The system failure on the bus also meant that the automatic luggage doors were out of order, so George and three other men had to manually lift the door to allow people to get their bags.
“As soon as we had the door up the flames were coming inside the bus,” George said.
“I didn’t think about it at the time but I had my hand luggage on my seat. Two girls picked it up and said ‘this is yours’. A few people came up and hugged me and thanked me too.”
George commented that the bus driver “did all he could” when the mechanical issues began. “No bus driver would have been expected to do what he did. End of story.”
Bus Eireann has said it will carry out a comprehensive and thorough investigation into the cause of the fire on Thursday night.
A statement from the company said: “This is an exceptionally rare occurrence in our fleet.”
“Bus Éireann would like to thank the emergency services, our driver and passengers for their rapid and effective response to the situation.”