Aug 20, 2014

This is how people reacted at a real accident scene

A couple of days back in an unforgettable midnight, I witnessed a road accident. What moved me greatly was that I could do more than being a mere witness. I could be of real help in saving a few lives. What inspired me greatly was that I was not alone. I had company. In a godforsaken highway lane at midnight, I had company to help injured people and calm them at their moment of panic. I was part of a crowd. I am proud to be part of this crowd.

Quite recently, several videos on apparent 'social experiments' which capture the reactions of people to emergencies and distress calls were doing the rounds on social media. Most of them were hard-hitting and showing the cold side of human negligence. A friend of mine recently wrote on his wall that the society in stead needed a lot of positive examples showing displays of empathy and humanity coming out of such 'social experiments', because deep inside, constant exposure to videos of negligence and apathy may slowly make the mind numb to situations and trick it into believing that it is okay not to act when a person is dying in front of you. This kept me thinking. Positive examples. Real examples. Reactions of real people in a real situation where people need help.

I believe that what inspired me will inspire several minds. I believe that what reinforced my faith in humanity will also touch several hearts and reassure them that humanity prevails. Hence I write this today.

I was travelling by a bus from Madurai to Chennai on a Sunday night and I was fast asleep. I was woken up when my bus halted roughly and for a few minutes I could not realize what is happening. In a few crucial minutes, I saw people getting down from the bus and running out and I could make out from broken words and conversations that an accident had just happened in front of us. Quite unsure of the happenings, I stepped out of the bus, still a bit sleepy. Once I was out of the silence and darkness inside my bus, I quickly realized adrenalin shooting up inside me.

Just a few metres ahead, I saw a tumbled mini bus. People were running here and there. Along with my bus, another bus had also stopped and passengers from both these buses were already rescuing the injured people out of the damned mini bus. The bus was lying on its side and people were being pulled out of the windows. The front windshield of the bus was cracked into pieces and some of the passengers entered the mini bus through the windshield and were lifting people out of it. Glass pieces were all around. Blood was all around. Panic cries were all around. It was horrible.

As I was standing there in shock, a man close to me shouted asking for a torch if anybody had one. I immediately switched on my mobile's torch and assisted him. He was lifting a small boy out of the bus and there was blood on the back of his head. He wanted light to check if there were any deep cuts or wounds on the boy's head. Fortunately there were no major cuts on the head. The boy was taken to safety and made to sit on the median. All rescued people were made to rest in the median.

I realized that there was not enough light around there. I ran crazily from man to man for a while with my torch. I wanted to do more. I did not know what to do. Three men were trying to lift an old man to the median. They needed a hand. I held the torch in my mouth and gave them a hand. The old man's left ankle was severely cut and loosely hanging from his foot. He was bleeding badly. He was drunk. He was unconscious. Perhaps he did not even know that he is fighting for his life. Just as we laid him on the median, a few ladies let out high and wild cries of panic.

The cries disturbed me. I moved away. The conductor of my bus asked me to call the ambulance. It would have been about ten minutes since the incident. The conductor gave me details about the location to help the emergency control room locate the place and send ambulances. I called 108. The first ever time I made a call to 108. It was 1 15 AM.

The person from the control room asked me for whereabouts and asked me to describe the scene. I was apparently in a bit of shock still but I was able to give him information somewhat clearly. "Two buses sir.. Collision. One bus tumbled. No injuries to people in the other bus. People are bleeding. Send ambulance. Yes, near Trichy. What? How many people? ..... (counting mentally as I looked around) around 15. No deaths so far (one of the most painful 'so far's I have ever spoken). Road blocked. No vehicle can move forward. Me? I was in a bus that came behind this. I am travelling to Chennai from Madurai. What? No Sir.. I have no idea. Please send ambulance fast Sir. My name? My name is Shankar. Yes, you can call me on this number if you need directions"

10 minutes had elapsed so far. Why had nobody called the ambulance so far? Why did it strike no one? Apparently people were acting to rescue people from the tumbled bus. Why did it not strike me to call the ambulance immediately? 'Somebody call the ambulance'  I heard someone shouting in the dark. I shouted in reply. 'I called the ambulance just now. They are coming' Suddenly the word spread. Random people shouting to each other. 'Call ambulance again' , 'Somebody keep calling them' , Ambulance will come soon. Somebody give water to this lady' 

A young boy appeared from my behind sobbing silently and walking without a direction. Like a ghost out of nowhere he startled me. He was floating silently around where people were crying and shouting all around. I walked him to the median, made him sit down and asked him his name. "Velraj" he replied. He should have been woken from his sleep by the injury. Instinctively I checked his head and hands and feet for any cuts or wounds. Fortunately there were none too big. I asked him where his parents are. A lady ran to us shouting "He is my son.. He is my son" She was crying the loudest. Velraj did not even seem to recognize his mother in that shock. I tried to console them both saying it is ok and help is on the way and they are going to be fine. I tried. I did not know what to speak at that time. The mother's cries were making me panic and I could not coherently talk. Velraj was staring blankly into the night. He still haunts me.

Slowly I found out that the injured people were all from the same family and they were on their way to Tirupathy. Every one was injured and in that pain, they were crying to find out what happened to the others in the bus and checking on each other. I saw a group of ladies crying aloud on the other side and people trying to console them or make them stop crying. A young boy - should be a college student - pleaded with them to stop crying and consoled them that God will save them all and he begged them to stop crying. "Kai eduthu kumbudren ma. Saami unga ellaaraiyum kaapaathuvaaru. Ellarum nalla aagiduveenga. Dhayavu senju azhaadheengamma" The college student guy was also on the verge of tears when he was pleading with them. I wanted to fall in his feet. Empathy!

People were running around with water bottles offering water to the injured. People were running around to check the bus if there were still anybody inside. People were running around me constantly checking on the status of the ambulance. People were regulating traffic too on the other side of the road, ensuring that vehicles do not create an unnecessary crowd of onlookers. Police was in the scene in half hour. Some order came along with them and in ten minutes from that the ambulances arrived. One by one they came with their sirens. Four to five ambulances rushed to the spot and the paramedics got to work efficiently and instantly. Stretchers were given to the public asking them to bring people who are more severely injured first on priority.

I ran with another man sharing the stretcher to lift the old man with the cut ankle. We lifted him onto the stretcher and lifted the stretcher. His ankle popped outside the stretcher and hung loosely. We had to keep the stretcher down and carefully place his ankle with his foot and lift him again. I was holding the toe end of the stretcher and I felt a mild shiver in my hands when I took his ankle and aligned it with his foot. We lifted the stretcher again and started to run towards the ambulance. A cold realization stuck me! Blood from his ankle was dripping onto my feet as we ran. I could sense each drop of blood falling on my feet - the viscous hot fluid!

In a matter of a few minutes, all the injured were rushed to hospitals in ambulances and my bus resumed its journey to Chennai. I was acting without thinking for the past hour. I did not even know the names or faces of the brothers who ran around in the scene helping the injured. Nobody wanted to talk to anybody. A grim silence was in the air. The lights were switched off in the bus and it slowly resumed its routine. I tried to sleep!

There were around 20 of us trying to help in whatever way we could. We did our best with genuine intent. But most or all of us were facing such a thing for the first time. In spite of our intentions, we did not know what to do. The panic of the injured caught on to us in a spark and it spread like a wild fire. Everything came back in my mind and I was able to identify a few things that we could have done better.

There was no organized effort in rescuing. Everyone was acting on random will and helping whoever is in front of the eye. There were a few leaders who shouted out directions and instructions and the others diligently followed. Even then they were not able to organize the whole crowd. No body had the common sense - including me - to call the ambulance immediately. Nearly ten crucial minutes were lost before I called the ambulance nudged by the conductor. Even as we called the ambulance, I was not able to give a clear picture quickly. What was most essential?

  • Location (with landmarks if any)
  • What size of the vehicles involved in collision
  • How many injured? How many seriously bleeding? How many unconscious/ dead?
  • How many children? How many women? How many elders?
  • My name and contact details for help in reaching the place if needed
  • Other visual description of the accident spot in as much detail as possible

No body knew how to handle the cries and panic of the injured. We simply did not know what to talk to them and relax them a bit. No body knew any first aid to do at that moment. No body even checked for a first aid kit in the vehicles nearby. Information spread in the scene only by shouting and people with a loud carrying voice helped a lot. There was one moment I was proud for my voice. An injured man was asking for water and the people around him were trying to ask around for water but it was not there closeby. I was also there and I shouted at the top of my voice asking for water and in a minute a person ran with a water bottle from a few metres away. Voice!

Of course, we were not trained to handle such situations and it was only the intent and humanity. It was amateur and raw and genuine. But I will remember this night and if against my hope, I am put in a similar position sometime later in life, I will try to act a bit more composed and organize the crowd's rescue efforts and alert the emergency control room immediately. I am writing this mainly to give you a real feel of what it is to be in such a situation and by any remote chance if you happen to be in such a scene anytime later, you too can act without panicking and be of valuable help.

Just as I was thinking all this, by 3 15 AM I got a call from the emergency control room. The person in duty thanked me for alerting the ambulance and informed me that in total 18 injured people were admitted in Trichy GH and they were all brought to the hospital in good time and wished me a good safe journey to Chennai. Follow-up! I never expected that to happen.

Talk of positive examples. Humanity prevails.

To all the good samaritans,
- GS

Photo courtesy : Dany Masson


  1. With all due respects & salutations for the humane act and the positivity thoughts, I know it is hard but the fact is this entire episode even as an unedited piece as a video would have spread across to more people than what this currently does!

    Remember the viral video across the social forums and media of an Australian Railway station where everybody pushed the train to its sides to retrieve a man who fell, safely!


    1. Point taken :-) We were in a state where we could not remember to call the ambulance immediately boss. Video and viral scope were all way beyond reach at that time. I did spot one or two people who were clicking photos at the spot. Don't know where they are...

    2. @charan - It is really disappointing to know this is what you could offer to someone whose telling the world that there are good people- "A VIRAL VIDEO" to "spread" it across. This is an accident spot where people are losing blood and life. Its not "a" person. Its a whole van where they needed more people to help than take videos. Probably in that Australian episode - there were more hands and hence that person chose to videotape. But does everything really have to? Did the best authors and poets choose writing over filming their imagination for a reason? He chose to write.. and the least we can do is appreciate. Thank you for saying this... its got me thinking in another angle!!! hope you understood what I was trying to say without taking offence.

  2. It must have been a terrible night! It gave me goosebumps as I finished reading your post!
    It is aptly timed, and true the social experiments can ruin a situation of real need.
    Great post!

    Keep smiling,

  3. Humanity Prevails. Its what keeps us going. Your timely help was more important than a viral video! Besides i personally like the Thai Insurance ad for it being more positive, it was fwded in whatsapp and one day my kid saw it as she keeps playing with it and said "Amma intha anna ellarukkum help panranga ma" i said u too shud do the same chellam. lesson learnt for the day.

  4. True Divia .. Humanity prevails :-) You are teaching your kid the right lessons