The town of Ronda has been in mourning this week after the horrific minibus crash in India that killed four travelling companions from a humanitarian group from the Malaga municipality and a local driver.
Six of the remaining nine from the group of 13, all injured, were well enough to be flown back to Spain and arrived at Malaga airport on Tuesday, while, at time of going to press, two are still in hospital and one waiting to return.
Two of the survivors, showing the scars of the accident, spoke to waiting journalists. “We’ve been through a tragedy,” said one, while a fellow group member added that “we are in a bad way psychologically and physically”.
The scenes at Malaga airport on Tuesday were a far cry from the excitement and expectation the group had had on setting out from there a week earlier.
Hit by an oncoming truck
The group, mostly from Ronda, had set out to visit humanitarian projects in southern India linked to the Fundación Vicente Ferrer, aSpanish charity. The trip turned to tragedy, however, when several days into the journey, a minibus in which the group was travelling was hit head on by a truck on the wrong side of the road.
According to accounts from members of the group, after arriving on 1 August, they had spent five days finding out about the charity’s work in the Indian state of Andra Praesh, north of Chennai, before starting out on a private trip last Saturday to an orphanage at Puducherry, crossing the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, that is not part of the charity’s work.
It was about 200 kilometres into the journey to the orphanage when the minibus was hit at about 10am by the lorry. The bus was virtually destroyed by the impact and the lorry driver fled the scene and is wanted on suspicion of dangerous driving.
Organised by a yoga centre
The group trip to India was organised by a popular yoga centre in Ronda. The owner of the Centro Baba, Vicente Pérez, who was one of the four fatalities on Saturday, was also the local Ronda coordinator for the Fundación Vicente Ferrer’s work and had arranged the trip. Pérez’s wife was one of the more seriously injured in the crash.
A message on the Centro Baba Facebook page from last Friday including photographs of the trip, which was taken down after the accident said: “India, a country where humanity overwhelms. We are visiting the impressive work carried out by the Fundación Vicente Ferrer.”
Many of those taking part were well-known for their charity and volunteer work in Ronda.
Speaking from her hospital bed in Bangalore after the accident, Ronda businesswoman Concha Márquez explained what she remembered of what had happened. “Ididn’t see much, Ilost consciousness and Iended up among the wreckage. They had to take me out,” she said.
“We had set out at about four in the morning, we stopped for breakfast, bananas and coffee. We were having an incredible few days.”
She went on to say that they had been taking donations of materials to the orphanage in a city to the south, believed to include fleeces and glasses.
Of those killed, three were from Ronda and one was from Granada province but worked in Malaga. They were named as Vicente Pérez, Josefa Morán, Nieves López and Francisco Pedrosa. The Indian driver of their minibus was also killed.
Mayor of Ronda, Teresa Valdenebro, declared three days of official mourning after the accident, with official meetings cancelled and flags flying at half mast. “Iwant to pass on my condolences to the families,” she said. Local residents lit candles and left flowers at the door of Centro Baba, which remained open to support those family members affected. Messages of sympathy were also received from the King and Queen and the prime minister.
Charity in shock
The head of the Fundación Vicente Ferrer charity, Jordi Folgado, visibly affected by the accident, commented from Spain: “It is as if a part of our energy has been taken away.”
The Vicente Ferrer organisation aims to take people out of poverty in southern India through sustainable development. Most donations come from sponsoring a child and some 150,000 children are sponsored this way, sources say.
The bodies of the deceased were expected to arrive back in Spain on Thursday evening before being taken to Ronda.