FIFTEEN PEOPLE were killed and 23 injured when a bus carrying 38 passengers overturned and crashed on Monday on the A-23 in central Portugal when returning from a visit to Fátima Sanctuary.
The bus belongs to Castelo Branco Câmara and most of its occupants lived in the city. The group was part of the Seniors College of Castelo Branco, a teaching and leisure facility attended by retired people, and the trip to Fátima and Nazaré coast had been planned for a long time by the mature students.
Joaquim Santos, 68, one of the passengers, told the Lusa News Agency, that “everything happened very fast”. After being treated at the Castelo Branco Hospital for minor injuries, he said: “Something hit the bus in the highway and suddenly the bus lost control.”
After that first impact, Joaquim Santos only remembers the “bus going down a ravine” and that “down there we couldn’t see a thing. I remember people started groping about to know where they were and to see each other.”
The accident happened at 7.45pm on the A-23, which connects Abrantes to Guarda, as the bus was travelling from Fátima to Castelo Branco after the Fratel exit, near Vilha Velha de Rodão.
The location is not listed as a dangerous spot by the authorities or by Scutvias, the concessionaire of the A-23. Matos Viegas, deputy director of Scutvias, said: “The road is not dangerous on that stretch. Unfortunately, when roads are too good, people tend to relax and speed.”
Police were still investigating the circumstances of the accident when The Resident went to press but reports from the scene were indicating that the bus was involved in a collision with a small vehicle, causing it to lose control.
After the alert was raised, the National Authority for Civil Protection launched an emergency plan to assist all the victims as quickly as possible.
The INEM, the national emergency assistance service, set up a mobile medical unit to immediately help the most badly injured people, who were transferred to different hospitals in the country.
Less seriously injured passengers were sent to the Castelo Branco and Abrantes hospitals and the worst cases were transported by helicopter to Hospital São Francisco Xavier, in Lisbon.
Several helicopters were sent to the area and all the emergency teams from the Castelo Branco district were called into action by Alzira Serrasqueiro, the local Civil Governor.
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