JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A coal train ploughed into a truck packed with farm workers at a level crossing in eastern South Africa on Friday, cutting it in half and killing 19 people who were on their way to pick fruit, police and emergency services said.
Police spokesman Joseph Mabusa said it appeared the truck driver had miscalculated when crossing the track, leaving his vehicle directly in the path of a freight train carrying coal to neighbouring Mozambique.
“It is a very gruesome scene. Some bodies are without heads and some without limbs. Forensic teams are still working on the scene,” he said.
The impact carried the truck 200 metres down the track, dismembering its occupants and making it hard for forensic experts to say exactly how many people had been killed, he added.
“The driver was taken to hospital. His condition is unknown,” Mabusa said.
At least 24 others were injured, some of them critically, in the accident near the town of Hectorspruit, about 400 km (248 miles) east of Johannesburg.
State rail operator Transnet said the train was carrying coal for export to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, but that there was no derailment.
“The truck was carrying 44 passengers ... and the police on the scene have confirmed that 19 people were fatally injured,” it said in a statement.
Paramedics found the injured lying among the dead after the truck had been chopped in two by the impact, said emergency services spokesman Jeffrey Wicks.
Local media showed pictures of helicopters landing on the road - the main highway linking Johannesburg to Mozambique - in order to airlift the injured to hospital.
South Africa’s government has announced plans to spend billions of dollars on revamping the creaking rail network in the continent’s biggest economy. But human error is often to blame for the sporadic accidents that do occur. (Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard and Tshepo Tshabalala; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Ed Cropley and Andrew Osborn)