Spanish bus careens off road, kills nine

TORNADIZOS DE AVILA, Spain (AFP) - A bus carrying more than 30 passengers careened off a highway in central Spain and ploughed into a metal safety barrier on Monday, killing nine people in an impact that blew out windows and tore away one side of the vehicle.

The 54-year-old bus driver was detained by police after the accident, which also injured 22 people, six seriously, police and emergency services said. The crash near Avila, north-west of Madrid, was Spain's deadliest in five years.

After police questioning the driver appeared before a judge in Avila who granted him conditional release but warned he would be investigated for manslaughter due to negligence. He was barred from driving during the case, according to the High Court for the Castile and Leon region.

The bus came off the road as it travelled downhill on a steep, winding road near Avila, trapping several passengers in the wreckage, emergency services said.

The blue single-decker bus, which carried the markings of a private bus company, Cevesa, ended up nearly on one side, a buckled safety barrier preventing it from sliding further down a roadside slope.

Windows on the entire right-hand side of the bus were ripped open and the buckled frames left exposed after the bus apparently scraped along a rocky wall before striking the metal barrier.

The broken windscreen hung open like a curtain.

"The road was well signposted and according to police tests the driver was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol," said Interior Minister Fernandez Diaz who visited the injured and relatives of the dead in Avila.

The authorities were awaiting the results of a tachograph, which measures the bus's speed, he said. The driver emerged uninjured but in shock.

"Nine people have died and 22 have been injured," said a statement by the emergency services for the regional government of Castile and Leon.

A dozen ambulances, two medical helicopters and teams of firefighters converged on the scene.

Six bodies lay on the N-403 road, covered in white sheets or shiny gold and silver foil.

Emergency services workers in black helmets and tunics carried one person away on a stretcher. Shocked passengers sat on the kerb nearby, some being comforted by first aid personnel.

The bus had been heading to the provincial capital Avila from the province's southern town of Serranillos and was less than 10km from its destination when disaster struck at about 8.45am (2.45pm Singapore time).

The vehicle's insurance papers and road worthiness certificates were in order, officials said.

The injured were taken to hospitals in Avila for treatment or medical examination, emergency services said.

A six-year-old girl was flown about 100km by helicopter to a major hospital in Salamanca.

"She is stable but they have to examine her for trauma to the brain," the mother, who was not named, told Spanish public radio.

A 17-year-old girl and a 91-year-old were later taken to the same Salamanca hospital.

At the Sonsoles Hospital in Avila, 63-year-old Lucia Herranz told AFP her granddaughter Lucia Garcia, 16, was in the bus with two girlfriends for a day out shopping in Avila.

"She has some broke bones in her wrist," Herranz said. "When she arrived she was in shock. It was very intense. She was trembling and crying because she had two friends in the bus." 

One of her girlfriends was the 17-year-old patient rushed to the Salamanca hospital with a serious head injury. The other girl, 16, required a few stitches in her leg but suffered no broken bones, according to her family.

A team of psychologists was comforting the victims' families, who were taken to the Avila sports stadium.

It was the deadliest bus accident in Spain since April 2008 when nine Finnish tourists were killed in a crash in southern Spain's Andalusia region.