Madagascar bus crash kills 34 Christian pilgrims on their way to church

Thirty-four young Christian pilgrims on their way to church were killed on July 31 when the bus they were riding crashed down a ravine while trying to climb up a steep road on a hill in Ankazobe, about 70 kilometers from Madagascar's capital of Antananarivo.

(REUTERS / Thomas Mukoya)A general view shows the cityscape in Madagascar's capital Antananarivo December 19, 2013.

Pastor Saholy, who organized the pilgrimage and witnessed the crash, said the bus had a technical problem when they were 20 kilometers into their journey. The vehicle plunged down the ravine around midnight on Monday, Xinhua relayed.

"We were 140 people onboard of a big bus," said Pastor Saholy. "We are members of an association of young Christians and we were on road to attend a pilgrimage in Mahajanga (560 kilometers northwest of Antananarivo) on Wednesday, when the drama happened."

In an interview with AFP, police spokesman Herilalatiana Andrianarisaona said the bus had difficulty climbing the steep road and crashed down a 20-meter ravine. He added that the vehicle burst into flames after rolling several times.

Police counted 12 badly burned bodies at the site of the accident. Hospitals later confirmed 22 other deaths after the crash --- 18 in Antananarivo's main hospital and four at a hospital in Ankazobe. Based on the list of passengers, a six-month-old baby and a 67-year-old were among the victims.

Madagascar's President Hery Rajaonarimampianina, who paid the injured a visit at a hospital, promised that the government would shoulder the victims' hospital fees and the cost of burial for those who died in the accident. Prime Minister Mahafaly Solonandrasana also vowed to jail those responsible for the bus crash.

Meanwhile, a mechanic who prepared the vehicle told local reporters that the accident could have been the result of sabotage as there was no technical problem. Results of the ministry of transport's preliminary investigation reveal that the bus has a capacity of around 76 people, but it transported 140 people plus their luggage during the time that the accident happened.