8-Year-Old Survives Bus Plunge Off Bridge That Left 45 People Dead

An 8-year-old girl was the sole survivor after a bus carrying 46 people on their way to an Easter weekend pilgrimage in South Africa on Thursday plunged 165 feet from a bridge into a ravine and burst into flames, according to a local department of transportation.

The bus was traveling from Botswana to Moria, a religious pilgrimage site in South Africa’s northeast, when it careened off a bridge winding through the Mmamatlakala mountain pass after the driver “lost control,” the department said in a statement.

Forty-five people, including the driver, were killed.

The girl was receiving medical attention at a nearby hospital, the Limpopo Province department of transportation in South Africa said in a statement. The child was in serious condition, according to another government statement.

“Rescue operations continued until the late hours of Thursday evening, as some bodies were burned beyond recognition, others trapped inside the debris and others scattered on the scene,” the transportation department said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa called his counterpart in Botswana, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, to extend his condolences, the president’s office said in a statement released late Thursday evening.

The crash occurred in a scenic, mountainous area of winding roads and sweeping vistas about three and a half hours north of Johannesburg. The road on a high overpass bent sharply over a ravine flanked on both sides by rocky, tree-covered slopes.

The area attracts a lot of traffic on Easter weekend for a pilgrimage to Moria, the headquarters of the Zion Christian Church, one of the largest in the country. South African border officials had said they were bracing for an influx of visitors for the pilgrimage.

The nationalities of the victims have not yet been determined.

The tragedy struck as South Africans prepared for a four-day weekend, with public holidays on Friday and Monday.

Around major holidays the South African authorities often take extra measures like police roadblocks and publicity campaigns to help prevent traffic accidents. On Wednesday, South Africa’s minister of transport, Sindisiwe Chikunga, launched an Easter road safety campaign, noting that traffic accidents often spike during the holiday.

“Easter is a time for celebration, but it is also a time when roads can be more dangerous due to increased traffic and holiday festivities,” the ministry warned.

Africa has historically had among the highest road fatality rates in the world, according to data from the World Bank and the World Health Organization.

South Africa had more than 12,400 road fatalities in 2022, the most recent year for which statistics are available. The Automobile Association of South Africa called the traffic deaths a “national crisis” in a statement released last year. The association argued that the government needed to invest more in road safety and better enforce traffic laws.

“Unless these two issues are dealt with, our country’s abysmal road safety situation will never improve,” it said.

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