The bus was heading back to Barcelona after taking 61 passengers, mostly Erasmus year-out students from elsewhere in Europe, after a long day-trip to Valencia to see its famous Fallas festival.
According to initial investigations, the driver lost control on a blind bend at kilometre 333 in Freginals (Tarragona province) at around 06.00hrs this morning (Sunday).
The coach swerved, hitting the central reservation and turning full circle into the opposite carriageway before overturning.
The bus is said to have hit another car, the two occupants of which were injured, and was facing the opposite direction when the wreckage was found.
As yet, the 13 deceased have not been identified, but are all female, thought to be in their early to mid-twenties and from different countries in Europe.
Another 13 escaped with minor injuries and 30 are more seriously hurt, and four of them are said to be in a life-threatening condition.
A total of 48 occupants of the coach, including the driver, were rescued along with both occupants of the car it collided with.
As is standard procedure in the event of a major road accident, the driver was immediately breathalysed and drug-tested, but was found to be negative.
He is currently being questioned at the Mossos d’Esquadra – Catalunya’s answer to the Guardia Civil – station in Tortosa (Tarragona province), the next town on from the scene of the crash.
Mayor of Freginals Josep Roncero said kilometre 333 on the AP-7 heading north is a ‘notorious accident blackspot’, although the regional minister for the interior Jordi Jané says the tragedy was more likely to be ‘human error’.
Jané believes the driver is likely to have collided with a barrier on the right-hand side of the carriageway in the inside lane, ricocheting the bus across both lanes and into the central reservation with such force that it broke through it and thrust the coach into the path of an oncoming car, which in turn pushed the coach around and knocked it over on its side.
The coach had been in convoy with four others from the same transport company, Autocares Alejandro, from Mollet del Vallès (Barcelona province), but the other buses – all unaffected and travelling in front – carried on to their destination without realising what had happened behind them.
But the fourth coach driver in the convoy – the company’s owner, Alejandro López – realised something was wrong when he ceased to see the lights of the one behind and, on attempting to contact the driver of the crashed vehicle without success, urged passengers to text or phone their friends on the other bus to make sure they were safe.
According to Alejandro’s son Raúl, one of the students on the fifth coach replied by WhatsApp to say it had been involved in a serious accident, and López Senior called the 112 emergency hotline.
Raúl López collected his father in Barcelona after he had dropped off all his passengers, and the two men drove directly to Freginals to give statements to the police.
The AP-7 southbound remains shut in the Freginals-Tortosa area, with traffic diverted along the parallel N-340 inter-provincial highway through Aldea.