SABLAN, Benguet?William Laruan, who is recovering from a stroke, was enjoying the morning sun on his wheelchair outside his shanty on Naguilian Road here on Wednesday when a La Union-bound bus sped toward his direction.
Laruan can only speak with much effort because of his condition, but neighbors heard him yell when the bus struck his roof, throwing him and his wheelchair back into a room filled with fading magazine clippings of movie stars in the 1980s.
?I just had breakfast. I do not know what pushed me back into the room. It was so strong I was thrown out of my wheelchair,? Laruan said.
A few minutes later, 41 passengers of the Eso Nice bus were dead after the vehicle fell into the bottom of a 150-foot deep ravine in Barangay Banangan at about 9:20 a.m. in the deadliest bus accident so far this year.
Reports from the police and the Office of Civil Defense here said the bus, with 50 passengers on board, was on its way to San Fernando City when its driver, Romeo Subang Jr., realized that the brakes were failing.
Unable to shift gears, Subang swerved toward a row of shanties in Banangan, calculating that a mango tree near Laruan?s home would be strong enough to stop the bus on its tracks.
Instead, the bus plunged into the ravine, pulling with it the tree and Laruan?s roof.
Some of the accounts recorded by rescue workers came from John Patrick Flores, the bus conductor, who helped take eight passengers to the hospital, including Subang whose rib cage was broken.
Subang was pulled out of the bus still clutching the steering wheel, a rescue worker said. He was put under police watch at Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center in Baguio City, about 10 kilometers from the crash site.
Among the survivors were Desiree Jucar, 5-year-old John Ray Jucar, Arnel Paras and Jay Angelo Gundran of Baguio; 17-year-old Darwin Lumboy of La Trinidad, Benguet, who was discharged after being treated for bruises; Juan Graycocho of Naguilian town; and Jerome Valdez of San Fernando.
Albert Anthony, 47, died on the way to the hospital.
Desiree Jucar said: ?I remember the bus suddenly move very slowly. We did not know what was going on. Suddenly, we were falling.?
Rescuers counted 41 body bags, which were shipped by police and military trucks to the funeral parlors.
Among the dead was a Filipino-American family from Jacksonville, Florida, who were staying in Sablan for a few weeks?Frederick and Rose Quinio, their 11-year-old daughter Nicole, and their 7-year-old son Michael.
Also among the fatalities was Indian national Albert Anthony, 47, of Baguio, who died while being treated at the hospital. His wife, Carlota, also died in the crash.
Rescue volunteers noted that the unluckiest passenger may have been a woman passenger, who boarded the bus at the gates of the Lexber Subdivision, which is a few meters from the accident site.
Police said they had no way of determining whether the woman survived the accident.
Flores said Subang started to be concerned about the condition of the bus brakes when they stopped to pick up the woman, but the driver decided to proceed with the trip.
Flores returned to the crash site with Eso Nice employees, but he was visibly shaken.
A team from the Department of Transportation and Communications is investigating the accident to determine how it would penalize the bus firm.
Traffic toward La Union was slow. Rescue volunteers from Baguio, the police and the military occupied half the road to pull up both survivors and the dead, using ropes and pulleys.
Some motorists handed out biscuits and candies from their windows as they passed through.
Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan, who was at the crash site, said this was the worst accident so far in the province this year.
He said the government?s task now was to make sure no more accidents would occur, especially because rains pouring almost daily in the Cordillera have made roads leading to Baguio slippery and dangerous.
A few meters from the crash site is a concrete wall that was put up after another bus fell into that ravine a few years ago.
Naguilian Road has eroded sections that are still in disrepair after these were damaged by landslides triggered by last year?s Typhoon ?Pepeng? (international codename: Parma).
The Sablan accident did not occur along the damaged sections of the highway, but Fongwan said the accident ?should remind government to start rebuilding those roads, before they truly trigger accidents.?
?The real accident-prone area is in Marcos Highway [which takes in the bigger volume of traffic for Metro Manila-bound vehicles]. There is a sharp slope there which needs fixing or that will forever be an accident area,? Fongwan said.
Restoration work on roads damaged by Pepeng had been delayed by lack of funds and a delayed bidding process for infrastructure funds from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, according to the Department of Public Works and Highways.
The last major accident in roads leading to and from Baguio was on March 6, when a bus carrying pilgrims from Laguna crashed into a tree on Marcos Highway in Pugo, La Union, killing 12 people. Vincent Cabreza, EV Espiritu and Desiree Caluza, Inquirer Northern Luzon