Just three people survived Monday’s plunge from the highway, considered one of the 15 most dangerous in Mexico. Two were in critical condition and one, an 8-year-old girl, was stable, according to Sanatorio Escudero, the hospital in Orizaba where the injured were taken.
Ranulfo Marquez, deputy director of civil protection for Veracruz state, said the girl was conscious but had suffered multiple fractures.
The bus, equipped to hold 46 passengers, was carrying 60, some of whom were standing. Federal Preventive Police Cmdr. Reinaldo Ascencio Cavazos said the owner of the bus was detained for questioning.
Police did not immediately know what caused the crash, but said the driver had been trying to maneuver into a lane designed for vehicles that have brake or other mechanical failure as the bus descended a winding mountain road.
The bus had been traveling on a highway linking Mexico City and the port city of Veracruz and fell more than 650 feet into a ravine near Maltrata, a town about 125 miles east of the capital.
It was thought to be traveling about 68-70 mph. Buses often are required to limit their speed to 60 mph.
Marquez said the bus had been on the road for 22 years and should not have been allowed to operate. It had already traveled for more than 10 hours as it returned from an Easter week gathering near the western city of Guadalajara.
He said the victims had gathered for a religious event in Tequila, 40 miles northwest of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city.
Marquez said late Monday that officials mistakenly inflated the death toll after some of the victims taken by ambulance to three different hospitals were double-counted. The driver was believed to be among those killed.
The highway where the bus was traveling is considered to be one of the 15 most dangerous in the country, Federal Preventive Police official Arturo Corona said.
Ascencio said the passengers belonged to two religious groups, the Guadalajara-based Light of the World and Pentecostes.
But in Guadalajara, Light of the World spokesman Sara Susana Pozos said those killed were not members of her church. She said church officials in Veracruz have been in contact with authorities at the crash site and "we can honestly say that those involved in the accident aren’t part of the Light of the World."
She said that police might have been confused because some of the women from the crash wore long clothing and carried Bibles, like many of those faithful to Light of the World.
Light of the World is a conservative Protestant movement founded in 1926, when members believe Christ spoke to the church’s Mexican founder.
Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans filled the highways Sunday and Monday as they returned from Easter week vacations. The holiday typically sees a large number of highway deaths.
Light of the World has suffered highway crashes before.
In August 2002, a crowded bus carrying Light of the World members to a re-enactment of the Last Supper in Guadalajara tore through a toll booth and crashed into a cement wall in Michoacan state, killing 33 people.
Eight more Light of the World pilgrims were killed a day later when another bus heading to the Guadalajara extravaganza also crashed.