GUATEMALA CITY – The death toll in the crash of an overcrowded bus whose brakes apparently failed rose to 51 on Saturday, after five injured passengers died and another body was found in the wreckage.
Survivors of the Friday crash told rescue workers that the bus driver had tried to brake by downshifting gears before the bus plunged off the highway and rolled down a 50-foot slope, said Benedicto Giron, the spokesman for Guatemala's national disaster prevention committee.
"The survivors told us that about 4 miles before the scene of the accident, the driver said, 'We lost our brakes, I'm going to try to brake with the motor,"' Giron said.
But the attempt to downshift was apparently unsuccessful, damaging the gearbox and leaving the bus out of control, Giron said. Initial investigations suggest the bus had already flipped on its side and slid about 200 yards down the highway before rolling down the slope into a gully.
The bus, which had an official capacity of 40 passengers, was carrying about 70 people when it was crushed in the impact of the crash.
The wreck occurred near the city of Cuilapa, about 25 miles east of Guatemala City.
Giron said 45 people died at the scene and 20 injured passengers were taken to hospitals. Five of the injured later died and another body was found in the wreckage, bringing the toll to 51, he said.
Guatemalan buses are frequently overloaded and must navigate rudimentary roads.