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13 killed as bus carrying foreign students crashes in Spain

Thirteen people were killed and 44 injured Sunday when a bus carrying foreign exchange students crashed in northeastern Spain, local authorities said.

All the dead were female, according to a regional government source who requested anonymity.

The students were on a European exchange programme 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.

The casualties’ nationalities was not immediately known, said Jane, revising down an earlier death toll of 14.

The accident occurred just before 6:00 am (0500 GMT) near the small town of Freginals, about 150 kilometres (95 miles) south of Barcelona as the bus was returning from a hugely popular traditional festival in the eastern city of Valencia.

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,” Jane said.

The bus then hit a car coming in the opposite direction, injuring two people inside, he added.

An AFP photographer at the scene said many fire trucks were on site, 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.

– Negative for drugs, alcohol –

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 added that 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 okay 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.”

The accident is one of the deadliest in Spain in recent years.

In November 2014, a bus carrying pilgrims fell into a ravine in the southeast of the country, leaving 14 dead and another 41 injured.

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.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz was on his way to Catalonia, his ministry said, to oversee work currently underway to identify and repatriate the victims.

Catalonia’s newly-elected president Carles Puigdemont, meanwhile, was also due to visit the crash site after he cancelled a planned trip to Paris.