MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 6) - Forty-one people were killed when a packed bus plunged into a deep ravine in the northern Philippines on Wednesday, authorities said.
The bus carrying 49 Filipinos had just left the mountain resort city of Baguio en route to San Fernando City, La Union when its brakes failed, local fire chief Senior Superintendent Richard Villanueva said.
Provincial police chief Wilben Mayor told reporters 40 people were killed instantly.
He said 9 people were injured, including the conductor who survived by jumping out of the door before the vehicle flew off the cliff.
"The driver tried to ram the bus into a mango tree to prevent it from falling, but failed," the conductor, John Patrick Flores, who escaped with only bruises, told reporters.
As of posting, Eso Nice bus driver Romeo Suban Jr., who was among the 9 victims rushed to the hospital, was still in Intensive Care Unit (ICU). They remained in critical condition.
Police Senior Inspector Leo Guay, who led the search and retrieval operations, said the destroyed vehicle had come to a rest on its side on shrub-covered ground in Barangay Amba-cuag, Banangan, Sablan.
He said the steep slope made it difficult for rescuers to retrieve the mangled bodies from inside the wreckage.
Guay said police were in the process of informing relatives of all the victims.
He said the bus owners could face charges of damage to property, multiple homicide and multiple physical injuries.
The management of the bus company expressed its intention to extend help to those injured, as well as to those who lost their loved ones.
Relatives search for kin
Meanwhile, relatives rushed to different hospitals in the hope of finding their family members. Some went to 2 funeral parlors in Naguilian when they could not find them at the medical facilities.
A military truck brought 11 remains to the funeral parlors so that relatives could identify and immediately claim their kin.
Among the fatalities were 2 foreigners, a family of 4, and a pregnant breadwinner.
Dr. Lolita Carantes’ world crumbled after learning about the tragedy that took the life of her daughter, Rose Quino.
“Ewan ko lang kung bakit sila sumakay sa bus. Ang sabi niya sa jeep daw sila sasakay," Carantes said.
Quino, along with husband Frederick, their children Michael, 7 and Nicole, 11 were among those who died in the accident.
The Quino family was scheduled to fly to Florida, USA. However, they decided to visit their nanny first before leaving the country when the tragedy struck.
Two foreigners also perished in the accident. They were identified as Enrique Lim Hao, and Arab missionary, Albert Anthony.
Anthony was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. “Kapatid na namin siya," said Anthony’s friend, Linda Basco.
It was heartbreaking for the Estrada family to personally see the state of the remains of their 22-year-old daughter, Sheila Marie.
Sheila Marie was also 5-months pregnant. She was on her way to work when the bus encountered an accident.
“Hindi ko alam kung anong gagawin ko. Walang-wala pa naman kami ngayon,” said her mother, Maria Corazon Estrada.
Sheila Marie is the family’s breadwinner. The family had hoped that their daughter would be able to send her 4 other siblings to school.
Housewife Hilda Cumbis almost passed out. All she could do was cry and caress the remains of her husband Joel who was on the bus with their 3-year-old relative.
Baguio is about 200 kilometers north of Manila, and is a popular tourist destination because of its rich tribal culture and cool weather.
Road accidents, often involving old buses and careless drivers, are common in the Philippines.
Fifteen people were killed last month when a bus slammed into a concrete wall in Cebu, the Philippines' second biggest city.
Twenty-one people, among them Iranian medical students, were killed a month earlier, also in Cebu, when a bus fell off a cliff. With TV Patrol and Agence France-Presse