|The wreckage of the bus is lifted by a crane after the deadly crash. Reuters: Albert Gea|
March 22, 2016 - SPAIN - Thirteen people have been killed and 44 injured when a bus carrying foreign exchange students crashed in north-eastern Spain.
The students were on a European exchange program in Catalonia and were from 16 different countries including Britain, Ukraine, Switzerland, Sweden but also Japan and New Zealand, said regional government official Jordi Jane.
It is not believed any Australians were on board the bus.
Six of those injured were in a critical condition in hospital, and all the fatalities were female, according to Mr Jane, who heads up interior matters for Catalonia.
The casualties' nationalities were not immediately known, said Mr Jane, revising down an earlier death toll of 14.
The accident occurred just before 6:00am local time near the small town of Freginals, about 150 kilometres south of Barcelona, as the students were returning from the Fallas festival in eastern Valencia known for the burning of giant statues.
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," Mr Jane said.
The bus then hit a car coming in the opposite direction, injuring two people inside, he added.
Spain's Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, who went to the scene, said it was still not clear why the bus driver hit the railing in the first place, adding however that the accident was likely due to a "human factor".
An AFP photographer at the scene several hours after the crash said many fire engines were there, as were three hearses and a heavy-lift crane.
The car's front was smashed in, and the bus was lying on its side after the accident.
It was eventually lifted onto a truck and driven away — its windscreen smashed and the back part of its roof caved in.
|Emergency personnel attended the deadly bus crash in eastern Spain. AFP: Pau Barrena|
The bus was carrying 57 people in all, including the driver.
Spain's national radio station RNE spoke to the son of the owner of the company that chartered the bus, who said his father was driving another bus in front of the one that crashed — one of a total of five vehicles ferrying students back from Valencia.
"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," said the son, named only as Raul.
He said 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.
Catalonia's high court said in a statement that an initial probe revealed that "the bus driver tested negative for drugs and alcohol."
Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted his concern on Sunday.
"My condolences to the families of the victims and I wish rapid recovery to the injured," he wrote.
Joining in mourning for the tragedy, players for Barcelona and Villarreal — which is only around 100 kilometres from the crash site — observed a moment of silence before kick-off, as will those from the Real Madrid and Sevilla. - ABC News Australia.