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As the painstaking process of identifying the dead begins, police have blamed tire explosion and brake malfunction for the country’s deadliest road accident in years.
Thirty-one passengers died and 46 were injured when an overloaded mini-bus plunged into a 100-foot ravine in Carranglan, Nueva Ecija on Tuesday. The driver was among the dead, police said.
The ill-fated vehicle, which took off in Isabela, was bound for Candon, Ilocos Sur and Bangid Abra.
Senior Supt. Antonio Yarra, director of the Nueva Ecija police, said some survivors heard an explosion in the right front portion of the vehicle which they believe was caused by a tire that burst.
Yarra said the bus was cruising on normal speed when the tire gave way.
“What was surprising about this accident was that the bus appeared to have passed through the gap of the concrete barriers,” said Yarra.
The concrete barrier, designed to protect vehicles from falling into the ravine, is 12-inch thick and stands about four feet, according to Michael Calma, chief of the Provincial Disaster Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDDRRMO).
It took dozens of rescuers, using ropes and stretchers, several hours to rescue survivors and retrieve bodies.
In the absence of a passenger manifest, Calma said they came up with the figures following the rescue and retrieval operations.
“Most of the dead did not carry identification cards, although some of them have been identified by their relatives,” Calma said.
From what he saw on the crash site, Calma said it was providential that many survived.
“Kung makita mo ang pinangyarihan, di ka maniniwala na may nabuhay pa,” said Calma, noting the position of the ill-fated vehicle.
Calma speculated that the roof went off before the bus rolled into the deep ravine.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) have started separate investigations into the accident.
LTFRB spokesperson Aileen Lizada noted the absence of warning signs and the lack of physical barriers after conducting an inspection yesterday.
“Sana may mga road signs kasi this area, I learned, is prominent for accidents. Sana, from afar, sinasabi na: You are approaching an accident-prone area, Slow Down, Check your Brakes – dapat gano’n – pero wala kaming nakita,” she said.
“The barriers that are placed there are so irrelevant to the type of vehicles that are plying (the highway). Ang lalaki ng mga dumadaan: trailers, buses, those carrying sacks of rice, heavily loaded trucks…that when it comes to the curves, like where the accident happened, there are no more (concrete barriers),” she said.
Lizada cited two possible violations: One, overloading and two, the absence of an alternate driver.
The mini-bus was built to accommodate 45 passengers while LTFRB regulations require drivers to drive a maximum of six hours before being replaced by an alternate driver.
“The entire distance of the trip from Ilagan, Isabela to Banguid, Abra is over 559 kilometers and covers 14 hours,” she explained.
Lizada added that they are also checking if the Leomarick Bus is fit to travel.
Yarra said the mini-bus is registered to a certain Juan Leonardo Patulot while the operator is identified as Ricky Patulot. The bus firm holds office in Agoo, La Union. (AARON RECUENCO • VANNE TERRAZOLA)