Bodies returning to Tokyo after deadly road collision

The families have been notified of the deaths of four Japanese engineers who died while returning to their work site on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, along with their driver.

ABU DHABI // The bodies of four Japanese engineers killed this week when their minibus smashed into a semi-trailer were expected to arrive back in Tokyo today, the Japanese Embassy said last night. "Everything about [the repatriation] is being arranged right now. Hopefully it will be the direct flight from Abu Dhabi to Narita airport tonight on Etihad," the embassy's charges d'affaires, Setsuo Omori, said yesterday.

"It is such a tragedy and I hope it won't happen again. They were engineers engaged in the establishment of a project in the northern part of Abu Dhabi, and they were on their way back to their project site outside Abu Dhabi city when this happened. They were living in the Western Region." The driver of the 14-seat minibus, a Pakistani man, also died with his passengers in the collision late Wednesday night on the Abu Dhabi-Sila road, which leads to Al Ghuwaifat in Al Gharbia.

Mr Omori added that the families of the Japanese men had already been notified, but the victims' names were to be released in the coming days in a statement from their company, JGC Corporation. The Yokohama-based firm has a branch in Abu Dhabi, where the engineers had reportedly been working on the construction of a natural gas processing plant. The engineers were returning home to Al Gharbia from dinner in Abu Dhabi around 11.30pm when a large lorry swung out without checking to see if the road was clear, according to police. The victims' van struck and became lodged into the rear of the lorry. It was then towed for about 25 metres before the lorry driver realised what had happened and stopped.

The driver and three passengers died at the scene. The fourth passenger was rushed to Marfa Hospital but succumbed to his injuries. A report from Japan's Kyodo news agency, citing "a related party", said three of the men were in their 50s and one victim was in his 60s. The driver of the semi-trailer was arrested and will be charged with causing a fatal accident, said Col Hamad al Ameri, the director of the highway traffic department in Abu Dhabi Police.

JGC Corporation's Abu Dhabi director, Hiromi Katagi, could not be reached yesterday, but the office manager of the company's branch in Paris, Hagime Emura, said he expected an official statement to come from the Yokohama headquarters soon. "All the Japanese media were talking about this accident," Mr Emura said yesterday. "JGC is a big company, very active in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Algeria, so we have to prepare some official information to avoid any confusion."

An estimated 700 Japanese expats live in the emirate, according to the Japanese Embassy. "They are mostly engaged in the development of oil or trade or other commercial activities," Mr Omoro said. The fatal crash came just days after the release of new statistics showing that road deaths more than halved in July, compared to the same period last year. There were 41 road fatalities in July 2009, while 20 were recorded last month. Severe injuries and deaths also went down by 26 per cent, to 32 cases this year compared to 43 incidents in July 2009.

Speed deterrents such as radars and face-to-face fines helped to reduce serious accidents, police said. @Email:mkwong@thenational.ae