The wreckage of the bus is lifted from the scene of the accident. / PHOTO: EFE / VIDEO: EP

Death toll rises to seven after bus plunges 30 metres from bridge into flooded river in Spain

The accident happened late on Christmas Eve as the regular Monbus service between Lugo and Vigo was carrying passengers to visit their relatives at the Monterroso prison

S. RODRIGUEZ Santiago de Compostela

Seven people have now been confirmed dead after a bus plunged 30 metres from a bridge into the swollen Lérez river in Cerdedo-Cotobade (Pontevedra), Spain, on Christmas Eve.

The accident happened at around 9.35pm on Saturday, 24 December, when a bus operated by the Monbus company, operating the regular service between Lugo and Vigo, plunged into the river at kilometre 67.5 of the N-541, in villa de Pedre. It was carrying passengers who going to visit their relatives in Monterroso prison.

Firefighters were able to rescue the driver of the vehicle alive, and he was rushed to the Hospital Clínico of Santiago de Compostela, while a woman passenger was transferred to the Montecelo Hospital.

Police said the 63-year-old bus driver tested negative for alcohol and drugs, and he has now been released from hospital.

However, the force of the flood water and the darkness of the night made it almost impossible for the emergency services to reach other pasengers in the bus until Christmas Day. That is when the bodies of six victims were recovered from the vehicle that was wedged in the swollen river.

After some confusion about the number of passengers on the bus, a seventh body was found in the river on Monday, 26 December. It was reported to be the son of the woman who survived.

On Tuesday, recovery teams carefully hoisted the wreckage of the bus from the swollen riverbed 30 metres below the road bridge. It will now be carefully inspected by accident investigators for any clues about what caused the fatal crash.

The first theory, in the absence of the official Guardia Civil accident report, suggests that bad weather was the cause of the accident.