Canico: The Portuguese island of Madeira began three days of mourning on Thursday after 29 German tourists died when their bus spun off the road and tumbled down a slope before crashing into a house.
Drone footage showed the mangled wreckage resting precariously on its side against a building on a hillside near the town of Canico, the vehicle’s roof partially crushed and front window smashed.
Rescue workers attended to injured passengers in the undergrowth where the bus came to a halt, some of them bearing bloodied head bandages and bloodstained clothes, others appearing to be more seriously hurt.
Local authorities said most of the dead were in their 40s and 50s. There were 11 men and 18 women were among the victims and all of them were German.
They were among the more than one million tourists who visit the Atlantic islands off the coast of Morocco each year, attracted by their subtropical climate and rugged volcanic terrain.
“It is with sadness and dismay that I think of our compatariots and all the other people affected by the terrible bus accident in Madeira,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement.
“My sincere condolences go above all to those families that have lost loved ones in this tragedy,” she added, thanking the Portuguese emergency services for their efforts. The 50-odd tourists had left their hotel and were on their way to the regional capital Funchal for dinner when the accident occurred on Wednesday. Prosecutors have opened a probe and the vice-president of the regional government Pedro Calado said it was “premature” to attribute the cause of the accident. He said the bus was five years old and had been recently inspected.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he will travel to Madeira on Thursday with a team of doctors and psychologists to “speak personally with those affected”. “It is shocking that an Easter holiday has become a tragedy for so many people,” Maas said in a statement. The injured were “in a state of shock, with memories of terrible images. An injured woman said she had lost her partner,” Ilse Everlien Berardo, the pastor at the German Evangelical church in Madeira, told Germany’s RTL network.
He said local authorities were trying to find people on the island who speak German.
“Even though the doctors and nurses are tending to the injured with great care and compassion, it’s important for the injured to hear their mother tongue,” he said. A makeshift morgue has been set up at the airport in Funchal, local media reports said. Medical teams will be flown in from Lisbon to carry out autopsies.
German holidaymakers were the second largest group after British tourists to visit Madeira — known as the Pearl of the Atlantic and the Floating Garden — in 2017, according to Madeira’s tourism office.
Madeira is home to just 270,000 inhabitants.
“I express the sorrow and solidarity of all the Portuguese people in this tragic moment, and especially for the families of the victims who I have been told were all German,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told Portuguese television.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa said he had contacted Merkel to convey his condolences.
“It is with profound sadness that I heard of the accident on Madeira,” he wrote on the government’s Twitter page.
“I took the occasion to convey my sadness to Chancellor Angela Merkel at this difficult time.” The last serious bus accident in Madeira occurred in December 2005, killing five Italian tourists in Sao Vicente.