13 people have been killed and a further 37 injured after a passenger bus plunged off the road and into a deep ravine in a rural area of central Ecuador on Wednesday, said authorities.

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Lira Villalba, the governer of the Tungurahua province in central Ecuador where the accident occurred, told media at a press conference that the accident occurred on a mountainous stretch of road between the capital of the province, Ambato, and the remote town of Pillaro. Although only preliminary investigations into the accident has been performed, initial findings indicate that brake failure is the most likely cause of the tragic crash, one of the most fatal bus crashes in Ecuador in recent history.

A local newspaper in Ecuador reported that the bus driver appeared to lose control of the vehicles after his brakes failed, causing the bus to steer off the road, tip over and roll down a 200m deep ravine. There were at least 50 people on the bus at the time. The names of those who died have not yet been released to the media, as next of kin are still being contacted to identify the bodies.

According to local authorities, the accident occurred at approximately 9.30am in the La Joaquina sector of Tungurahua province. More than 20 ambulances were dispatched to the scene after an anonymous emergency call was made to ambulance services. The injured have been transported to a number of hospitals in Ambato and Pillaro, with the most seriously injured being airlifted to the Ambato regional hospital.

Some survivors were interviewed in hospital by Shanghai Daily newspaper, and decribed scenes of terror and panic after the accident. ‘Afterwards, all was confusing. Three people died aside me,’ said a shell shocked survivor from her hospital bed.

Road traffic accidents contribute significantly to deaths in Ecuador, being the second leading cause of death in the country, according to government statistics. The Latin American country has a annual mortality rate due to road traffic accidents of 33 per 100 000 people in the population, the highest mortality rate of any Latin American country and one of the highest outside of Africa.

According to road safety watchdog Justicia Vial, which monitors road traffic accidents and resultant fatalities and injuries, 4800 people have been killed in transport accidents in Ecuador each year. This converts to an average death toll of 13 people a day on Ecuador’s roads.

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