Tortosa / AFP
Spanish investigators on Monday sought to establish the cause of a weekend coach crash that killed 13 female students from six countries, most of them Italians, as they were returning from a festival.
The vehicle was carrying students from about 20 countries, many of them on the European Erasmus exchange programme in Barcelona, the seaside capital of Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region, regional authorities said.
The driver lost control of the coach which crossed the central reservation and crashed into an oncoming car near the small Catalonian town of Freginals, about 150 kilometres (95 miles) south of Barcelona, just before 6:00am (0500 GMT) on Sunday.
Seven Italians, two Germans, a Romanian, a Frenchwoman, an Austrian and a student from Uzbekistanâ€”all women aged between 19 and 25â€”were killed, Jordi Jane, who heads up interior matters for Catalonia, told a news conference in the town of Tortosa, headquarters of the rescue operation.
“Some of them were not wearing seat belts,” he said. Earlier, he told Spanish radio the victims were “crushed between the coach and the road”.
He said 34 people were injured, but declined to indicate the seriousness of their injuries. Six of the victims’ families arrived in Tortosa on Monday, Jane added.
The coach was one of five buses travelling in convoy from the traditional “Las Fallas” festival in the eastern city of Valencia, which is known for the burning of giant statues.
Human, technical fault?
Jane said investigators were looking into both human error and technical problems as possible causes.
According to the coach’s tachograph â€”the device which records the vehicle’s speed and distance as well as the driver’s activitiesâ€”the driver had taken the necessary rest time.
“But the question is whether during this rest period, the driver had rested sufficiently,” he said. The driver, who is in his sixties, is in intensive care being treated for chest injuries, Jane said.
He had been due to appear before a judge on Monday, but the hearing has been postponed, a legal source told AFP.
The driver refused to speak to police on Sunday on the advice of his lawyer, Jane said. The mayor of Fraginals, Jose Roncero Pallares, said the stretch of motorway is known as an accident blackspot.
“I don’t know why, the highway looks fine and it’s a straight line,” he told AFP.
“It rained a lot that night and maybe that played a role.” The remaining passengers who escaped unhurt left Tortosa during the night. Some 1,500 students from across Spain, including around 275 from Barcelona University, travelled to Valencia for Las Fallas festival, a source at the university said.
Many of those on board the four other coaches reached their destination without even knowing about the accidentâ€”one of the deadliest in Spain in recent years.