Father-daughter reunion eases pain in road tragedy
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya – A 3-year-old girl had been sitting quietly in a hospital bed for about 30 hours with a fractured arm, one of the 44 survivors of the horrific bus crash on a mountain road in Nueva Ecija this week.
The staff at Veterans Regional Hospital (VRH) in Bayombong had no way to identify her so they posted her photo on social media in hopes that relatives would recognize her and come forward.
On Wednesday afternoon, the girl’s grandmother informed the hospital that her father had also survived the crash and was being treated at Nueva Vizcaya Provincial Hospital, also in Bayombong.
“The little girl caught everyone’s attention because people started calling her an angel for surviving the fall,” said a hospital staff who declined to give his name. “It was a relief to learn her father was alive and that they would be reunited soon.”
Death toll now 35
The girl’s predicament highlighted the daunting task of identifying the victims of the Leomarick Trans bus crash, whose death toll had risen to 35 on Wednesday.
So far, police and health workers have identified only 10 of the dead, including bus driver Rolando Mangaoang and conductor Cesar Perang.
It was one of the deadliest road crashes in Northern Luzon in the last five years. (See In the Know) The crash was so violent it tore off the roof of the bus and flung the passengers out of the vehicle even before the twisted wreck hit the bottom of the ravine.
The number of dead and injured indicated the bus carried over 70 passengers, more than its allowed maximum of 45, said Ernesto Corpuz Jr. of the franchise monitoring office of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) in Central Luzon.
The overloaded bus was negotiating the Maharlika Highway-Cagayan Valley Road after leaving Isabela province for Candon City in Ilocos Sur province when it struck a road barrier and fell into the 24-meter ravine around 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday in Barangay Capintalan in Carranglan.
“It was a miracle,” said passenger Ralph Grajo of his survival.
The Nueva Vizcaya resident, who was treated at VRH, said he had sensed something was wrong when the bus suddenly accelerated.
He said the driver had alerted the passengers that the brakes were not working moments before the bus veered off the road.
Grajo also said one of the front wheels blew up as Mangaoang tried to stop the bus by driving toward houses along the road. The vehicle instead struck a barrier and then plunged into the ravine, he said.
As the bus careened down the road, the passengers were screaming in horror, rousing Ruby Ann Senis from her nap. Senis, her 7-year-old child and her sister survived with cuts and bruises.
Corpuz said the LTFRB slapped a 30-day suspension on Leomarick Trans, owned by Leonardo Patulot, pending results of an investigation.
Patulot, in a radio interview, offered support and compensation to the passengers.
In Manila, lawmakers called for an investigation of the crash while expressing condolences to the families of the victims.
Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas said a law should be passed to keep old and malfunctioning buses off the roads and urged the LTFRB to take punitive actions against the bus company.
“Our authorities in the transportation sector must once and for all act stronger against buses that are not roadworthy. These coffins with wheels must no longer be allowed to take passengers,” Vargas said.
A thorough investigation was needed, said Sen. Grace Poe, “so that those who are at fault could be held liable and the victims be given justice.”
The crash reinforced the need to create a National Transport Safety Board that would conduct independent probes of crashes and formulate policies and programs to ensure safe travels, she said.
The 47-kilometer stretch from San Jose City in Nueva Ecija to Dalton Pass of this mountain highway is a busy route. Dalton Pass, where the Sierra Madre and Caraballo Sur mountain ranges meet, serves as the gateway to Cagayan Valley and the rice terraces of Ifugao.
After the July 1990 earthquake that rocked Northern Luzon, mudslides became a problem in many portions of the highway during the rainy season. The maintenance engineering office of the Department of Public Works and Highways explained that the shaking had loosened the soil on top of the denuded mountains. —WITH REPORTS FROM ANSELMO ROQUE, VILLAMOR VISAYA JR., DJ YAP, CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO AND AP