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Spain probes coach crash that killed 13 foreign students
[TORTOSA] Spanish investigators were on Monday trying to establish the cause of a weekend coach crash that killed 13 female students from six countries, most of them Italians.
The vehicle was carrying students from about 20 countries, many of them on the European Erasmus exchange programme in Barcelona, the seaside capital of Spain's northeastern Catalonia region, regional authorities said.
The driver lost control of the coach which crossed the central reservation and crashed into an oncoming car near the small Catalonian town of Freginals, about 150 kilometres south of Barcelona, just before 6:00am (0500 GMT) on Sunday.
Seven Italians, two Germans, a Romanian, a Frenchwoman, an Austrian and a student from Uzbekistan - all women aged between 19 and 25 - died in the crash.
"Some of them were not wearing seat belts," Jordi Jane, who heads up interior matters for Catalonia, told reporters in the town of Tortosa, headquarters of the rescue operation.
Earlier, he told Spanish radio the victims were "crushed between the coach and the road".
24 other passengers from 13 different nations remained in hospital on Monday, six of them in serious or critical condition, said Toni Comin, in charge of health in Catalonia.
Alessandro Saracino, the grief-stricken father of one the Italian victims, said it appeared that the driver "fell asleep".
"It was too late for a bus trip with young people. A beautiful country like Spain should have been able to guarantee these young people a completely safe trip. Driving in the rain at four in the morning is not safe," he told reporters on arrival in Catalonia.
"I was relaxed when I sent my daughter to this friendly country and she is being returned to me dead."
Arriving at a funeral home in Tortosa, family members were met by a team of psychologists, with police keeping the press away.
The coach was one of five buses travelling in convoy from the traditional "Las Fallas" festival in the eastern city of Valencia, which is known for the burning of giant statues.
Mr Jane said investigators were looking into both human error and technical problems as possible causes.
According to the coach's tachograph - the device which records the vehicle's speed and distance as well as the driver's activities - the driver had taken the necessary rest time.
"But the question is whether during this rest period, the driver had rested sufficiently," he said.
The driver, aged 62, is in intensive care being treated for chest injuries, Mr Jane said.
He had been due to appear before a judge on Monday, but the hearing has been postponed, a legal source told AFP.
The driver refused to speak to police on Sunday on the advice of his lawyer, Mr Jane said. He faces charges of 13 counts of involuntary manslaughter.
The mayor of Fraginals, Jose Roncero Pallares, said the stretch of motorway is known as an accident blackspot for reasons he couldn't explain.
"It rained a lot that night and maybe that played a role," he told AFP.
Dozens of people observed five minutes of silence outside one of the buildings on the sprawling campus of Barcelona University.
"The entire city of Barcelona is crying," said mayor Ada Colau.
Some 1,500 students from across Spain, including around 275 from Barcelona University, travelled to Valencia for Las Fallas festival, a source at the university said.
Many of those on board the four other coaches reached their destination without even knowing about the accident - one of the deadliest in Spain in recent years.
In Nov 2014, a bus carrying pilgrims fell into a ravine in the southeast of the country, killed 14 and injuring another 41.