Six people died and two more were seriously injured Thursday after the bridge on which their bus was traveling collapsed.
The 6:25 a.m. accident happened when the driver of the bus traveling from Turrubares to Orotina ignored the weight restriction sign and crossed the narrow wooden suspension bridge, known as the Puente Angosto de Turrabares, according to MOPT minister Karla González.
As the bus was halfway across the 50-meter, one-lane bridge, one of the principal steel cables supporting the wooden structure snapped, causing the bus to fall six meters into the Río Tárcoles.
González admitted that the bridge was “seriously fatigued” and that a 75 meter iron reinforcement had been bought in 2002 for the bridge, but engineers had not gotten around to attaching it.
“We all have to accept responsibility for this tragedy and for the fact that the bridge was neglected, but at the same time, we did put up signs to warn drivers not to cross carrying more than four tones in weight and we can not be expected to put a policeman on the bridge to ensure drivers obey the signs,” Gonzalez said.
Red Cross spokesman Mario Víquez, said that four people died at the scene, a fifth person died en route to the hospital, and the sixth died at a hospital in Orotina.
Víquez said a six-year-old girl was airlifted to the Children’s Hospital in San José, approximately 90 kilometers from the scene of the accident. She was in a critical condition Thursday night.
Another 15 people were taken to hospitals in Alajuela and San José where they were treated for minor injuries and shock.
“Fortunately, the bus landed directly on its wheels,” Víquez said, “or else many more people could have died.”
Rescue services used a small boat to free the trapped passengers in an operation that took five hours and involved ambulances from Orotina, Puriscal, Alajuela, San José and Jacó.
The Turrubares bus makes the journey twice daily across the bridge, which is believed to have been built between 1920 and 1924. According to the daily La Nación, the poor condition of the bridge had been reported to the authorities by residents of the zone on several occasions.
The bridge is commonly referred to as a hammock bridge because of the way it sways when vehicles cross it.
Hammock bridges are still common in rural areas of Costa Rica.