MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Passengers were screaming in horror as the bus driver repeatedly hit the brakes, shouting they weren't working, before the vehicle plunged into a ravine in the northern Philippines, killing at least 31 people in one of the country's deadliest recent crashes, officials said Wednesday.
The 46 passengers injured in Tuesday's crash were retrieved by rescuers who struggled with ropes to descend down the 24-meter (80-foot) deep ravine to reach the wreckage in Nueva Ecija province's Carranglan town, said Senior Supt. Antonio Yarra, the provincial police chief.
He said at least 77 people were on board the vehicle based on the number of dead and injured, but rescuers returned to the crash site Wednesday morning to look in the grassy area for other possible victims.
A survivor who jumped out the door before the bus plunged said "the driver was shouting, saying the brakes were not working and he has lost control of the bus," Yarra said in a telephone interview.
Many of the passengers were hospitalized with serious injuries and parents were 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 onto 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.
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 out of 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.
Yarra said the driver was among the dead, and that four survivors were in critical condition.
The spot along the road is accident-prone. Tuesday's crash 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 (124 miles) 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 on a steep downhill road and smashed into a concrete electrical post in Tanay town in Rizal province east of Manila, killing 15 people.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.