Death could have been just a few steps away for a Hong Kong shop worker who took a short break on Monday afternoon.
Just before 2pm, Chan – who declined to give his full name – left his trainers shop in North Point to go to a nearby washroom.
Little did he imagine that minutes later an empty, runaway 19-seat school bus would roll 100 metres down nearby Cheung Hong Street and ram into a building on Hei Wo Street, killing four people and injuring 11.
“I saw four or five people lying on the ground. One was trapped under the vehicle. Everyone was so scared. It was chaotic,” he said.
“The bus hit one side of Hei Wo Street, and then changed course to hit the other side.”
Chan was just metres away.
One man was trapped under the right front wheel, another man was stuck under the middle of the bus and a woman was pinned by the rear right wheel. Rescuers took 20 minutes to free the three.
Police said the driver either did not apply the handbrake or failed to do so completely before getting out. He tried in vain to stop the bus from rolling down the street by getting in front of it.
The 62-year-old, who was then hit and dragged for about 20 metres, was in intensive care with serious head, neck and back injuries.
Another witness said two of those pinned by the bus were not moving.
Nana, an employee at Chandra Travel, just metres away from where the bus hit the building, counted herself lucky she was inside the travel agency at the time.
“I was on the phone when some people were suddenly screaming, and others crying. An elderly woman trapped under the vehicle was not moving,” the Indonesian said.
Bloodstained clothes, broken glass and miscellaneous items were strewn over the ground at the scene.
At Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan, eight grief-stricken family members learned about a loved one’s death at around 7.15pm.
They did not want to talk about his identity, saying only that the deceased was in his 80s.
One family member said their relative had injuries all over his body.
“We managed to bid him a final farewell,” he said. “I’m very down right now.”
Senior driving instructor Chan Chun-yeung, who specialises in training bus and truck drivers, said a handbrake should be fully applied when parking on a slope.
The best way a driver could ensure that was to pull the handbrake all the way and then give it an extra tug to make sure it was fully engaged.
Also, after switching off the engine a bus driver could leave a manual vehicle in first or reverse gear, or parking mode for an automatic, so it could not move.
Video footage of the incident showed the bus parked at the side of Cheung Hong Street, and the driver getting out.
Just as he slammed the door shut, his vehicle began moving. Realising what was happening, he tried to stop the bus, but was knocked down and pulled along.