JERUSALEM (JTA) – An Israeli tour bus driver said he was not speeding when his vehicle jumped a guardrail and fell into a ravine, killing more than 20.
The bus plunged down a 45-foot embankment Tuesday afternoon to the bottom of a riverbank north of Eilat after flipping over several times. Some 33 people were injured, many in serious condition.
The bus was filled with a group of Russian tour guides who had just arrived on a flight from St. Petersburg for the organized tour.
Twenty ambulances and three helicopters evacuated the dead and injured. At least 20 of the injured were in serious condition, Israel’s Channel 1 reported.
The bus, on its way from an airport near Eilat in southern Israel, reportedly had to alter its route due to army maneuvers in the area, which is home to several Israel Defense Forces bases.
Witnesses said the driver was driving erratically, then attempted a dangerous pass before losing control and falling over the side of the ravine. The driver said he lost control of the bus when an object fell on him as he attempted to pass another vehicle. The tour-bus driver, who received his license in 2001, had 22 traffic violations, the Israeli news site Ynet reported Tuesday night.
Russia was set to send two planes to Israel on Tuesday night, bringing family members of the crash victims to Israel, as well as medical personnel, psychiatrists and social workers.
According to the Israeli driver safety organization Or Yarok, 406 people died on Israel’s roads since the beginning of 2008, before Tuesday’s crash.