Bus carrying Easter worshipers plunges off bridge killing 45 people in South Africa

Dozens of worshipers died after a bus headed to an Easter conference crashed in South Africa’s Limpopo province on Thursday, the latest tragedy in a country where recent road accidents have led to multiple casualties.

The crash claimed the lives of 45 people, and the sole surviver, an eight-year-girl, was airlifted to hospital with serious injuries, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) reported.

According to the SABC, the passengers were pilgrims traveling from Gaborone – the capital city of neighboring country Botswana – to the Zion Christian Church in the town of Moria for an Easter conference.

The crash happened in the Mamatlakala mountain pass between Mokopane and Marken. The bus reportedly caught fire after plunging through barriers and off a bridge. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

In a statement, the province’s transport department said that “according to reports, the driver lost control and the bus fell onto a rocky surface, some 50 meters under the bridge and caught fire.”

Efforts are ongoing to recover the bodies of the passengers who were killed, according to the statement.

A man walks past the damaged part of the bridge, where the bus crashed through barriers. - Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
A man walks past the damaged part of the bridge, where the bus crashed through barriers. - Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

“Some bodies burned beyond recognition,” the local department said. Others are “trapped inside the debris and others [are] scattered on the scene,” it added.

Officials have only managed to retrieve 12 bodies from the crash site so far, according to Florence Radzilani, who is a member of the province’s Executive Council for Transport and Community Safety.

Radzilani told local news channel Newzroom Afrika that when she rushed to the scene on Thursday the “situation was very bad.”

Authorities have arranged for a minibus to take some relatives to the scene of the accident on Friday, and then to the hospital to check on the sole survivor, Radzilani said, adding that officials worked into the early hours to recover bodies and are back on the scene on Friday.

South African Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga said the government would repatriate the bodies to Botswana, the state broadcaster said.

“I am sending my heartfelt condolences to the families affected by the tragic bus crash near Mamatlakala. Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time. We continue to urge responsible driving at all times with heightened alertness as more people are on our roads this Easter weekend,” Chikunga said in a statement.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also expressed his condolences to the government of Botswana and the families and friends of the bus crash victims.

This story has been updated with further developments.

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