HONG KONG: A man has been arrested for starting a fire that broke out on a packed MTR train at Tsim Sha Tsui station on Friday (Feb 10) evening, local media reported.
Videos showed chaos on the platform at Tsim Sha Tsui station, with the cabin on fire and one man lying on the platform with his clothes ablaze as bystanders tried to help him.
"According to our preliminary investigations and the statements of the injured, we suspect there was a resident (who) had lit combustible agents," deputy chief fire officer Yau Chi-on told reporters.
A government spokeswoman told AFP that of the 17 injured, two were in a critical condition. Yau said the victims suffered serious burns and had inhaled harmful fumes.
The 60-year-old man, surnamed Cheung, confessed to police that he had set fire to himself, Yau Tsim police commander Frances Li told local reporters.
Li added that the incident is believed to be an isolated event and has no link to terror.
An injured person receiving medical treatment at Tsim Sha Tsui station. (Photo: Apple Daily via Reuters)
Investigators believe he had personal reasons for setting himself on fire and are continuing the probe.
"While he was on the way to the hospital, he mentioned some personal reasons, but he was incoherent. What he said did not make much sense," district Police Commander Kwok Pak-chung told reporters.
The fire broke out in the front carriage of a train at around 7pm local time, according to local reports, which added that the train had been halfway between Admiralty and Tsim Sha Tsui stations.
An unnamed police source told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that the man had said "burn you to death" before lighting a Molotov cocktail and catching on fire himself.
Photographs taken by passengers and circulating online showed people packed into a smoke-filled train cabin, and firemen rushing injured people out of the station in chaotic scenes.
"One man was completely on fire, his long trousers became shorts ... he crawled and fell, others helped to put out the fire," eyewitness Ray Chau told the SCMP.
"That train journey felt particularly long," he said. "There was nothing we could do but to inhale the smoke."
Two passengers in the underground train as it crossed the Victoria Harbour told Reuters they saw a lot of smoke.
"Suddenly a lot of thick white smoke swarmed over us. People started covering their noses and mouths. But people were calm. Nobody screamed," said passenger Nigel Ngai, 30. He added that the smoke smelled like burned plastic.
As of around 9pm local time, Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station was still closed to the public. A group of police officers with bomb disposal equipment were seen going down to the platform.
Police officers guard an entrance to Tsim Sha Tsui station. (Photo: Reuters/Bobby Yip)
Hong Kong leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, said in a statement he was "highly concerned" about the incident and has asked the relevant departments to investigate.
The incident is a rare occurrence in Asia's finance hub, where the transport network is known for its safety and efficiency.
In 2004, 14 people were injured on the subway when a man started a fire in the city's Admiralty station during the morning rush hour.
Mass Transit Railway (MTR), the company which operates the city's subway, said that trains on the Tsuen Wan line were skipping Tsim Sha Tsui station, which services a popular shopping and nightlife district.