EL-ARISH, Egypt – Tourists leaped away after their speeding bus overturned, rolled down an embankment and burst into flames Thursday in Egypt's Sinai peninsula. The pre-dawn crash killed at least nine and injured around 30 of the dozens of Russians, Canadians and east European holidaygoers.
The blaze left the bus, which was carrying about 40 tourists, a burned-out husk. Many of the dead were severely burned, making it difficult to determine their identities and nationalities.
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An Italian woman who survived the crash said the bus exploded moments after she crawled out of the wreckage and jumped down a steep embankment to escape.
Most of the passengers were asleep during the overnight trip, heading to Cairo, "and when we woke up the bus was turning upside-down. After that, it was hell," said Diana Argentieri, a 27-year-old factory worker vacationing in Egypt with friends. She recounted the bus had rolled over three or four times.
"It all seems like a nightmare, but unfortunately it's real," Argentieri told The Associated Press by telephone from a Sinai hospital where she received stitches to her back and shoulder hours later.
The driver, Ali Haridi, said he lost control of the bus on a sharp curve in the highway at Abu Zenima, an area about 40 miles southeast of the Suez Canal. After the fire broke out, passengers jumped from the windows of the burning hulk, he said.
"I was surprised by the turn and I wasn't able to control the steering wheel, and I lost control and it rolled over," Haridi told AP as he was taken into the hospital at Suez with burns and cuts.
Argentieri said the bus started speeding soon after it left the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheik around 1 a.m. local time, and that many passengers were worried. "The bus was going very fast and the road was in bad condition, we were immediately scared by the speed," she said.
Argentieri said that after the bus rolled off the road, down an incline and onto a rocky spur, she and her friend were making for an exit. She said she saw "a person on the floor, lying still, and other people bleeding."
"We wanted to go back in to see if there was still somebody alive, but the bus was on fire," she said, adding she and other survivors had to jump 3 to 4 meters (10 to 13 feet) from the spur to avoid the flames. "We had no choice, so we plucked up our courage and jumped. Immediately after that the bus exploded."
Lightly injured Russian Marina Litskaya, 34, said from a hospital in Sharm el-Sheik that she was on the bus, traveling with her mother and sat behind the driver when the crash happened. At one point, she looked over his shoulder and saw the speedometer dial at 160 kilometers (100 miles) per hour.
Haridi did not explain his speeding.
The bus was carrying Canadians, Britons, Italians, Russians and other tourists from Eastern Europe from the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheik to the Egyptian capital, said Dr. Said Issa, director of emergency services in the Sinai.
But hours later, Egyptian authorities and embassy officials from the tourists' home countries were still trying to determine the nationalities of the dead.
Romania's ambassador to Egypt, Gheorghe Dumitru, said a 41-year-old Romanian woman was among the dead. Timur Agametov, vice consul at the Russian embassy in Cairo, said at least one Russian was killed, and his country's Foreign Ministry said 16 Russians were injured. Egyptian security officials said one Egyptian died, and identified him as the bus driver's assistant, Mohammed Abdel-Hameed.
Some of the wounded had severe injuries, including severed or amputated limbs and heavy burns.
An Egyptian security official gave a breakdown of nationalities of those injured: four Britons, two Canadians, two Italians, two Romanians, one Ukrainian and four Egyptians. He put the number of Russian injured at 14, and the reason for the discrepancy with the Russian Foreign Ministry count was unclear. The four injured Egyptians included two policemen providing bus security, Egyptian officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.
The resorts of the Sinai peninsula have become a major beach destination for Europeans, who can fly in directly on charter flights. Many package tours provide for excursions to visit sights in Cairo, some 240 miles to the northwest.
Egypt has a history of serious bus and car crashes because of speeding, careless driving and poor road conditions. At least 8,000 people were killed in accidents in 2006, the most recent statistics available. The Sinai, a frequent scene of traffic accidents, 12 Israeli Arabs and an Egyptian were killed when their bus overturned in the peninsula in August 2006.