| 12.07,19. 01:45 AM |
Bus driver killed in Western Highway crash near Horsham after truck trailer detaches
Bus driver killed after truck trailers detach and block highway (ABC News)
Police have questioned and released a truck driver after a "horror" crash in which a bus driver was killed and dozens of passengers were injured near Horsham in Victoria's west on Thursday morning.
The bus was travelling along the Western Highway near Pimpinio when the trailers of a B-double truck in front of it detached and blocked the highway in both directions about 2:00am.
The bus — which was carrying 45 passengers from Adelaide to Melbourne — crashed into the trailers, critically injuring the 60-year-old bus driver, Emil Pich, who was treated by emergency crews but died at the scene.
Two passengers were airlifted to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and the remaining passengers were taken to a local hospital, police said.
Police took the truck driver, a 36-year-old man from Murray Bridge, and his 22-year-old female passenger into custody for questioning on Thursday afternoon.
The man was released on Thursday night pending further investigations, while police said the woman remained in custody on unrelated matters.
Police said the cause of the collision was yet to be determined and the investigation was ongoing.
In a statement, general manager of the Firefly Express bus company Frank Bono said Mr Pich had been with the company for 25 years and was a highly-valued team member.
"Our staff have all been informed of Emil's passing and the incident is having a considerable impact on all concerned, having lost both a team member and friend," Mr Bono said.
"We are all absolutely devastated by his passing."
"Our primary and most immediate focus is on Emil's family, those who are injured in the incident, and assisting the rest of our team with counselling and support."
Paramedics said seven people who ranged in age from their teens to 70s were treated by paramedics and taken to the hospital in Horsham.
The other passengers who were on the bus when it crashed were taken to Horsham for medical assessments, Ambulance Victoria said.
"Those people will be shaken up, there's no question about it," said Detective Sergeant Chris Hayes from the Major Collision Investigation Unit.
"Some of them obviously are injured and will have a physical reminder of this event but the psychological scars that will echo throughout their lives, the impacts multiply."
First responders were forced to help rescue survivors through the bus's windows because the front of the bus was so severely damaged.
The Western Highway remained closed in both directions while detectives from the Major Collision Investigation Unit examined the scene.
Police had been called in from across the region to help with the investigation, Sergeant Hayes said.
"These are really horrible conditions and a horrible scene, their reaction to the crash is, as with any other, it's dismay and horror," he said.
The truck was carrying tinned food and was travelling east towards Horsham, but police are yet to say where its planned destination was.
Anyone who witnessed the crash or who has dashcam footage has been urged to contact police.
"We're looking at what actions the driver took when he encountered this situation, sadly it's had a horrible outcome for him, but the potential for death and injury is enormous, I can't overstate it," Sergeant Hayes said.
"We will try to do things to understand what he was faced with, obviously light conditions are a significant part of that."
Horsham responds to 'very traumatic' aftermath
The operator of Horsham's hospital, Wimmera Health Care, said an emergency response centre had been set up for the 43 passengers brought into the town to be assessed after the crash.
"We have been extremely fortunate that the people who have been brought in have relatively minor injuries and are stable," the hospital's CEO Catherine Morley said.
"It has, however, obviously been a very traumatic experience for everyone involved and we are caring for patients on all fronts."
Extra staff and emergency volunteers had been brought in to help feed and comfort the passengers, she said.