LA PAZ, Bolivia – A packed SUV collided with a group of cyclists on Bolivia's "Highway of Death" on Thursday, killing nine people — including a British man who was the second foreign tourist to die this week along the notorious road.
The accident took place just minutes after the cyclists began their tour on a paved section near a 15,400-foot Andean pass, said Lt. Col. Agusto Angulo, head of the La Paz transit police accident division.
A Toyota Land Cruiser carrying a driver and 12 passengers struck the group, killing 22-year-old Tom Austin, Angulo said.
The vehicle then left the road and rolled 300 feet down a rocky embankment, killing eight people inside, Erbol radio reported.
British cyclists Daniel Roberts, 23, and James Marshall, 22, and five passengers in the SUV were injured, Erbol said. The British Embassy later confirmed the riders' identities but did not disclose more information.
Angulo suggested that the cyclists may have crowded into the vehicle's lane.
But Mercedes Solis, a lawyer for the parent company of tour operator Downhill Madness, insisted that the cyclists were riding on the shoulder.
The highway east from La Paz — the world's highest capital city — winds dramatically down the face of the Andes, dropping 11,800 feet in just 40 miles.
The narrow, largely dirt track earned its macabre nickname for the frequency with which Bolivian buses would plunge off its 3,300-foot cliffs, killing hundreds a year until a new paved highway opened 2007.
But the old route's stunning vistas and hairpin turns now draw an estimated 25,000 thrill-seeking mountain bikers from around the world. At least 13 cyclists have died on the road in the past 10 years.
On Monday, Kenneth Mitchell, 56, of Fullerton, California, died when he tumbled from his bicycle and fell over a cliff along the highway.