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Bus brakes failed before deadly ravine plunge - survivor

The driver of a bus which plunged into a ravine in the northern Philippines, killing at least 31 people in one of the country's deadliest recent crashes, repeatedly hit the brakes, shouting they were not working, as p assengers screamed in horror.

The 46 passengers injured in Tuesday's crash were retrieved by rescuers who struggled with ropes, descending 80ft to reach the wreckage in the town of Carranglan, in Nueva Ecija province.

Senior Superintendent Antonio Yarra, the p rovincial police chief, 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 on Wednesday morning to search the grassy area for other possible victims.

A survivor who jumped out of 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", Mr Yarra said.

Many of the passengers suffered serious injuries and parents were separated from their children in the confusion.

"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 on to a rope to climb up 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, Mr Grajo said.

"All the passengers were screaming and somebody in front of me told everybody, 'Don't panic', but many were already gripped by panic," he told DZMM radio network.

Mr 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.

Mr 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 village official told DZMM.

The impact from the plunge ripped the bus, which could no longer be distinguished at the bottom of the ravine, Mr Yarra said.

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 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 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, in Rizal province east of Manila, killing 15 people.

AP

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