A tour bus skidded off a road and plunged into a ravine in northern Laos' Luang Prabang province Monday afternoon, killing at least 13 Chinese nationals and injuring 31 others, a Lao police officer said.
The bus carrying 44 passengers hurtled off the Kasi-Nan Road near Namuang village in Luang Prabang province's Nan district, the officer told RFA's Lao Service.
The road is a 69-kilometer-long (43-mile-long) shortcut between the capital Vientiane and Luang Prabang, a popular tourist town roughly 340 kilometers (211 miles) north of Vientiane.
The bus, owed by a company based in eastern China's Jiangsu province, was heading back to Luang Prabang after taking the tourists to visit Vientiane.
Besides the 13 who were killed, 31 other Chinese tourists were injured along with a Lao tour guide and driver, and two people are missing, said the officer who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
"This was an accident," the police officer said. "The bus lost control then flipped over, killing the Chinese tourists."
"According to our report, there are 13 deaths, two missing, and dozens injured," he said.
The police officer said the two Laotians had been seriously injured, though the Chinese Embassy in Laos said two of the injured Chinese were in serious condition, while the two Lao nationals sustained minor injuries.
Rescue workers airlifted the dead and the injured to Luang Prabang Hospital, the police officer said, adding that some of those who sustained injuries could be transferred to a large medical center in Vientiane for medical treatment.
Staff from the Chinese Embassy and the Chinese Consulate-General in Luang Prabang went to the crash site to help with the search-and-rescue mission, while a medical team from China's People's Liberation Army and Lao medics flew to the crash site to help with treating the injured, China's officials Xinhua news agency reported.
Provincial and district police are investigating the cause of the accident and looking for the two missing passengers, the Lao policeman said.
"Right now, police suspect [the accident occurred] because the road is slippery, muddy, and curvy," he said.
But Xinhua reported earlier that Lao police said the accident was probably caused by brake failure.
Speed was a factor
The accident occurred during the annual monsoon season when roads are waterlogged and at times washed over with mud.
A local resident who declined to give his name said that the stretch of road where the bus skidded is a dangerous shortcut between Vientiane and Luang Prabang especially during the rainy season.
A Namuang village resident who witnessed the accident told RFA that speed likely played a factor.
"From looking at the scene, speed must have been a factor [because] when the bus came down the hill from Kasi town, when it was 200 to 300 meters [660 to 985 feet] away from the bridge, skidded and lost control," he said.
Vehicle accidents frequently occur on the steep part of Kasi-Nan Road where the bus skidded off.
In February 2018, the driver of a double-decker bus heading from Phongsaly province to Vientiane lost control, killing seven passengers and injuring 20 other when it plunged into the ravine. Police later determine that speed and brake failure caused the accident.
In October 2017, a tractor trailer from Vientiane overturned while traveling through the same area, though there were no deaths or injuries.
Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
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