MANILA: Bus passengers were screaming in horror as the driver repeatedly stepped on the apparently malfunctioning brakes before plunging into a deep ravine in the northern Philippines, leaving at least 29 people dead today in one of the country's deadliest accidents in years, a survivor and officials said.
The rest of the more than 50 passengers were retrieved by rescuers who struggled with ropes to descend down the 24-meter deep ravine to reach the wreckage in Nueva Ecija province's Carranglan town, said disaster-response officer Mark Raymond Cano.
Many of the passengers were hospitalised with serious injuries and parents separated from their children in the confusion, officials said. "One child here sat beside her mother. The mother was dead," said Dr Napoleon Obana of the Veterans Regional Hospital, where some of the victims were taken. TV footage showed a line of rescuers and villagers, some holding on to a rope to climb up on a grassy slope with a victim on a stretcher.
A throng of villagers waited in a clearing above them to help pull the victim to safety. Cano said a preliminary investigation showed that the bus "lost its brakes and plunged down the ravine." Passenger Ralph Raymond Grajo said he saw the driver repeatedly stepping on the malfunctioning brakes as the wayward bus was speeding along a downhill road.
The driver attempted to steer the bus to the right, but roadside houses made him veer back in the direction of the ravine as horrified passengers watched, Grajo said. "All the passengers were screaming and somebody in front me told everybody 'Don't panic,' but many were already gripped by panic," Grajo told DZMM radio network.
Grajo apparently fell off the bus as it rolled down the ravine and regained consciousness away from the wreckage with injuries to his feet and arms. He said he was among the first to be rescued and brought to a hospital. It wasn't immediately clear if the driver survived. The spot along the road is accident-prone.
Today's accident was the sixth in the area in recent years, a local village official told DZMM. The impact from the plunge ripped the bus, which could no longer be distinguished at the bottom of the ravine, said Nueva Ecija's police chief Antonio Yarra. He said investigators could not yet talk to the stunned and injured survivors.
Carranglan police chief Robert de Guzman said the bus from northern Isabela province was on its way to Ilocos Sur, a tobacco- and rice-growing region also in the mountainous northern Philippines, when it crashed shortly before noon in Nueva Ecija, about 200 kilometers north of Manila.
Poorly maintained passenger buses, inadequate road safety features and weak enforcement of local transport laws have been blamed for many vehicular accidents in the Philippines.
In February, a sightseeing bus carrying college students on a camping trip lost its brakes as it sped down a steep downhill road before smashing into a concrete electrical post in Tanay town in Rizal province east of Manila, killing 15 people.