MANILA, Philippines — An overloaded mini-bus fell into a deep ravine along a winding road near the boundary of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya before noon yesterday, killing 29 of its passengers, many of whom were traveling back to Manila and Ilocos after the long Lenten break.
Authorities said the accident in Barangay Capintalan in Carranglan town along the Cagayan Valley-Nueva Ecija highway left 38 people injured, many of them critically.
Police said the impact of the fall yanked out the roof of the Leomarick bus with license plate AVZ-757.
The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) said 18 of the fatalities were females.
A survivor, 31-year-old Ian Boy Fernandez of Sto. Domingo Bambang, said the bus was trying to overtake another bus when its engine stopped. While the driver was trying to restart the engine, he lost control of the vehicle on a sloping portion of the road.
Fernandez, who was with his 38-year-old wife Remedios and eight-year-old son Mico, said he was able to jump off the bus as it rolled downhill and veered toward the ravine.
As he climbed down the ravine to rescue his wife and child, people gathered at the crash site taking photos. It was not clear if his wife and son survived.
Fernandez said the bus was overloaded with more than 60 passengers, 11 of them standing, when it fell into the ravine about 100 feet deep.
Malacañang condoled with the families of the fatalities and vowed to hold accountable those responsible for the tragedy.
“We express our deep condolences to the families of the victims who died in the tragic bus accident in Carranglan, Nueva Ecija,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
“We guarantee that the culprits behind the fatal bus mishap will be held accountable,” he added. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) has ordered the suspension of the Leomarick franchise.
It was not clear as of press time if the driver was among the fatalities. Some survivors said passengers bound for Manila would have disembarked in San Jose, Nueva Ecija to get another bus ride to the capital.
Nueva Vizcaya Gov. Carlos Padilla rushed to the crash site together with personnel from the Philippine Red Cross and the Nueva Vizcaya provincial rescue team which, he said, retrieved 26 bodies from the site at around 3:55 p.m.
He said some of the injured were brought to the Indigenous Hospital in Aritao town, Nueva Vizcaya Provincial Hospital in Bambang town and Veterans Regional Hospital (VRH) in Bayombong town.
Dr. Arlene Hara, NVPH head, confirmed 13 deaths at the hospital alone.
“A still unidentified victim remains in critical condition at the ICU (intensive care unit) of the Nueva Ecija Provincial Hospital,” said Hara.
Dr. Rowena Constantino of the VRH said the dead included a six-month-old infant and seven children as of 5:15 pm.
Senior Supt.Antonio Yarra, director of the Nueva Ecija Provincial Police Office, said the accident took place at around 11:30 a.m. while the bus was traveling at around 75 kph along the treacherous Cagayan Valley-Nueva Ecija highway from Santiago, Isabela to Candon, Ilocos Sur.
“As of 2 p.m. about 40 victims have been taken out of the bus and lifted from the accident site, which is about 80 to 100 feet deep form the road area,” Yarra said.
He added the bus had a capacity of 45 passengers.
Authorities said rescue operation was tedious as personnel had to carefully check the injury of each passenger before removal from the site on a stretcher.
“The Cagayan Valley-Nueva Ecija highway was closed during the rescue operations, which resulted in about a three-kilometer long queue of vehicles,” Michael Calma, of the PDRRMO, added.
Carranglan Nueva Ecija Mayor Mary Abad said Capintala was about 45 minutes from the town proper and is considered an accident prone area.
Reports reaching Camp Crame showed four pick-up vehicles helped bring the victims to hospitals in Bangbang, Nueva Vizcaya, which is closer to the accident area.
The mayor said local police are now coordinating with the bus management as initial reports showed the bus lost its brakes as it maneuvered a sharp curve.
PDRRMO’s Calma said rescue teams were checking the scene until late in the afternoon to ensure all the passengers were accounted for.
“Rescue teams were still checking. If you look closely, the bus appeared to have landed nose first,” he said in Filipino.
Meanwhile, LTFRB spokesperson and board member Aileen Lizada said in a text message the suspension of Leomarick franchise takes effect once the bus operator, initially identified as Leonardo Patulot, receives a copy of the order.
The operator has two buses, including the one which figured in the accident.
Based on initial information from LTFRB field officers, the bus was not out of line.
Lizada said they were looking at human error and the condition of the vehicle as possible cause of the accident.
If there was overloading, the bus operator and dispatcher would be asked to explain. Investigators would also check on travel time and if there was an alternate driver.
The LTFRB recently issued a memorandum setting a six-hour limit of driving for bus drivers.
“There are many angles that we need to thresh out,” she said in an interview over dzMM radio. – With Alexis Romero, Ric Sapnu, Manny Galvez, Emmanuel Tupas, Raymund Catindig