Holiday island mourns after bus crash kills 29 German tourists
PORUGAL (AFP): Portugal and Germany mourned on Thursday after 29 German tourists died when their bus tumbled down a slope and crashed into a house on the tourist island of Madeira.
Drone footage showed the mangled wreckage lying against a building on a hillside near the town of Canico, the vehicle’s roof partially crushed and front window smashed.
Rescue workers attended to injured passengers on the grass where the bus rested nearby, some of them bearing bloodied head bandages and blood-stained clothes.
A woman who survived the accident said on the TVI television channel that the bus crashed after hitting a wall.
“It happened just after the bus started, one minute or a few seconds later. People were flying through the windows,” said the woman, who was not named.
“Some people were crying for help and we could immediately see some people were dead,” said her husband, who also survived the crash. “Help arrived very fast.”
Local authorities said most of the dead were aged in their 40s and 50s. Twelve men and 17 women were among the victims, an official at the Nelio Mendonca hospital, Tomasia Alves, told reporters.
They were among the more than one million tourists who visit the Atlantic islands off the coast of Morocco each year, attracted by their subtropical climate and rugged volcanic terrain.
“It is with sadness and dismay that I think of our compatriots and all the other people affected by the terrible bus accident in Madeira,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement.
“My sincere condolences go above all to those families that have lost loved ones in this tragedy,” she added, thanking the Portuguese emergency services for their efforts.
- Investigation launched –
Witnesses and officials said the 50-odd tourists had left their hotel on their way to the regional capital Funchal for dinner when the bus crashed on Wednesday.
Local media said two Portuguese nationals survived the crash: the driver and a tour guide.
Prosecutors have opened a probe. The vice-president of the regional government Pedro Calado said it was “premature” to attribute the cause of the accident.
He said the bus was five years old and had been recently inspected.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he would travel to Madeira on Thursday with a team of doctors and psychologists to “speak personally with those affected”.
The injured were “in a state of shock, with memories of terrible images. An injured woman said she had lost her partner,” Ilse Everlien Berardo, the pastor at the German Evangelical church in Madeira, told Germany’s RTL network.
Frankfurt-based tour operator Trendtours said 51 of its customers were involved in the accident. Another company, Schauinsland, said it also had two customers in the crash.
The companies sent their condolences to victims’ families and said they were sending teams to Madeira to offer support.
Trendtour said the bus had been hired by a local operator and crashed off the road “for a reason still unknown”.
- Makeshift morgue –
A makeshift morgue has been set up at the airport in Funchal, local media reports said. Medical teams will be flown in from Lisbon to carry out autopsies.
German holidaymakers were the second largest group after British tourists to visit Madeira in 2017, according to Madeira’s tourism office.
Known as the Pearl of the Atlantic and the Floating Garden, Madeira is home to just 270,000 inhabitants.
The Portuguese government decreed three days of national mourning.
“I express the sorrow and solidarity of all the Portuguese people in this tragic moment, and especially for the families of the victims who I have been told were all German,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told Portuguese television.
Alves said the hospital hoped to begin returning victims’ bodies to their families by Saturday.
The last serious bus accident in Madeira occurred in December 2005, killing five Italian tourists in Sao Vicente.