Japanese escape injury as bus carrying foreign students crashes in Spain

AP, AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

Thirteen people were killed and 30 injured Sunday when a bus carrying foreign students, including two Japanese, crashed in northeastern Spain, regional authorities in Catalonia said.

Initially, regional government spokesman Jordi Jane said 14 had died in the crash but Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz later confirmed the death toll was 13. He said 28 passengers received medical treatment in local hospitals and others received first aid at the crash site.

The students were enrolled at Barcelona University as part of the European Erasmus exchange program, said Jane, who heads interior matters for the Catalonia region.

He said the students had traveled to Valencia to take part in the renowned Fallas fireworks festival and were returning when the bus crashed. The minister said students were of several nationalities, including Spanish. Jane said most were studying at two universities in Barcelona.

An official at the Japanese Consulate General in Barcelona quoted Spanish authorities as saying that the two Japanese were not among the injured.

The accident occurred just before 6 a.m. near the small town of Freginals, about 150 km (95 miles) south of Barcelona as the bus was returning from a traditional festival in the eastern city of Valencia.

The driver “hit the railing on the right and swerved to the left so violently that the bus veered onto the other side of the highway,” Jane said.

The bus then hit a car coming in the opposite direction, injuring two people inside, he added.

Spanish television showed images of the car, the front of which was smashed in, and the bus lying on its side after the accident.

A photographer at the scene said many fire trucks were on site, as were three hearses and a heavy-lift crane.

The bus was carrying 57 people in all, including the driver. Of the 43 injured, 30 were rushed to hospital, Jane said.

Spain’s national radio station RNE spoke to the son of the owner of the company that chartered the bus, only giving his first name, Raul.

His father was driving another bus in front of the one that crashed.

“All of a sudden, he stopped seeing it in his rear-view mirror. He stopped at the next service area, called the driver but he didn’t pick up,” Raul said.

The son added that his father then asked passengers in his own bus to call those in the other vehicle, and that is when he got news of the accident.

“The driver is in a state of shock, but he’s OK physically,” he added.

The accident is one of the deadliest in Spain in the past few years.

In November 2014, a bus carrying pilgrims fell into a ravine in the southeast, leaving 14 dead and another 41 injured.

Catalonia’s newly-elected president, Carles Puigdemont, was due to travel to Paris on Sunday but cancelled the trip to go to the accident site.

The Fallas festival is held each year in eastern Valencia on the feast day of St. Joseph and draws thousands of tourists from across the world.

Large wooden monuments and effigies representing famous people often in humorous postures that local workshops take a year to build are burned in a colorful ceremony accompanied by a cacophonous barrage of very noisy fireworks.