Pala accident

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Pala accident
Jogeva in Estonia.svg
Location of Jõgeva County in Estonia
Details
Date 11 October 1996
Location Jõgeva County
Country Estonia
Statistics
Passengers 37
Deaths 8
Injuries 29

The Pala accident (Estonian: Pala õnnetus) was a fatal traffic incident involving a school bus on 11 October 1996 in Jõgeva County, Estonia. The bus was carrying 35 students of the Pala comprehensive school and 2 adults; 8 people died.

The PAZ school bus met a Scania wood lorry at the 3rd kilometre of SõõruNõva road, a narrow unpaved road. Having noticed each other, the drivers chose different strategies: the school bus driver, driving at a low speed, kept to the right side of the road in order to give the lorry more space to pass; the lorry, driving at about 70–80 km/h, began the manœuvre by braking heavily. On the unpaved road, braking led to cross-road oscillation of the lorry, leading the lorry driver to worry about a risk of falling off the road. The lorry driver compensated by temporarily unbraking and turning sharply left—towards the axis of the road—at an unfortunate time, leading the lorry to drive into the school bus at an angle of about 30 degrees. In the collision, the lorry "skinned" off the school bus' left side, killing 8 students born in 1982–1986.

Emergency response was delayed due to the accident site not being covered by GSM towers at that time as well as the lower-frequency emergency response dispatch radio transmitter being relatively far from the site, leading to several ambulances passing the accident site before finding it. However, considering the nature of the deaths and injuries, medical experts[who?] believe the delays did not increase their number.

Aftermath[edit]

The children who died in the accident were buried on 16 October 1996. By a special decree, the prime minister Tiit Vähi declared the day a national day of mourning.

Numerous logistical mistakes were uncovered in the handling of this accident. While experts agree that it did not increase the death toll, the cabinet of ministers convened a crisis commission on 28 October 1996 to hear evidence on incident handling.

Several survivors, including the lorry driver, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. In the following five years, the lorry driver was repeatedly hospitalised in Tartu psychiatric hospital; in the following ten years, his psychological state deteriorated, leading to experts repeatedly finding he was not competent to stand trial and prompting the supervising prosecutor to apply for a court order to force treatment on him shortly before the statute of limitations ran out.[1]

Jallo Freiethal, a surviving student in the bus and 12 years old at the time of the accident, was awarded an Order of Red Cross of the second class by president Lennart Meri on 19 February 1997 for disconnecting the school bus' batteries, thus reducing the risk of a gasoline fire.

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