Portuguese president joins services for island bus crash victims

Drone footage showed the wreckage of the tourist bus that crashed on Wednesday on the Portuguese island of Madeira (AFP Photo/STRINGER)

Caniço (Portugal) (AFP) - Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo attended church services Friday in tribute to 29 German tourists who died when their bus tumbled down a slope and crashed into a house on the island of Madeira.

Investigators are still trying to determine why the vehicle crashed off the road before ending up mangled on the side of a hillside near the town of Canico on Wednesday.

Portuguese public TV RTP reported Friday that the bus's accelerator was thought to have been stuck and that the driver might have tried to stop the vehicle by hitting a wall.

Advancing another theory, a German holidaymaker in his 60s who escaped with a broken rib told Portuguese television: "I think the brakes were gone, I cannot imagine another reason" for the crash.

His wife said some passengers were "ejected through the windows" when the bus began to roll over.

Sixteen injured people, of whom 14 were German, remained in hospital in the regional capital Funchal.

"They are all in a stable condition," said the deputy clinical director of the hospital, Miguel Reis.

A medically-equipped aircraft was waiting to repatriate the injured once they are able to be moved, the German foreign ministry told AFP.

Most of the dead were aged in their 40s and 50s, local authorities said. Seventeen were women and 12 were men.

More than one million tourists visit the Atlantic islands off the coast of Morocco each year, attracted by their subtropical climate and rugged volcanic terrain.

German tourist Maritza Klef was in a group that had waited for a second bus to take them to a restaurant for dinner, and thus escaped the crash, which took place just a few metres (yards) away.

"When I think about it, it's horrible," she told RTP.

Rebelo visited the accident site Friday and then walked to the nearby hotel where the bus had started its journey, AFP reporters saw.

He voiced his "solidarity with the victims" and thanked the emergency services.

He later visited survivors in hospital and attended separate masses at a Presbyterian church and at the cathedral in Funchal.

"Today we are gathering together because the survivors and relatives of the victims, more than ever, need our attention and support," German pastor Ilse Berardo told AFP.

Portugal's government on Thursday decreed three days of national mourning.