Spain bus crash kills nine

A bus careened off a central Spanish highway and ploughed into a metal safety barrier Monday, blowing out windows and tearing away one side of the vehicle in an accident that killed nine people.

Another 22 people were injured when the bus came off the road as it travelled downhill near Avila northwest of Madrid, trapping several passengers in the wreckage, emergency services said.

The blue single-decker bus, which carried the markings of a private company, Cevesa, ended up nearly on one side, a buckled safety barrier preventing it from sliding further down a slope by the road.

Windows on the entire right-hand side of the bus were torn away and the buckled frames left exposed.

The broken windscreen hung open like a curtain.

"Nine people have died and 22 have been injured," said a statement by the emergency services for the region of Castile and Leon.

A dozen ambulances, two medical helicopters and teams of firefighters converged on the scene.

Four bodies lay on the N-403 road, completely covered in white sheets or shiny gold and silver foil.

Emergency services workers in black helmets and tunics carried one person away in a stretcher and several other people, apparently shocked passengers, sat on the kerb nearby.

A female medical rescuer in white shirt and bright-orange vest could be seen placing a neck brace on a man lying on a yellow stretcher on the roadside.

The bus had been heading to the provincial capital Avila from the province's southern town of Serranillos and was less than 10 kilometres (six miles) from its destination when disaster struck at about 8:45 am (0645 GMT).

"It came off the road for unknown reasons," said the central government representative for Avila, Ramiro Ruiz Medrano.

"They are investigating the possible causes at the moment," Medrano told Spanish public radio.

"There are some with very serious injuries, others are in shock," he said.

The driver was uninjured, Medrano said.

The vehicle's insurance papers and road worthiness certificates were in order, he added.

The injured were taken to hospitals in Avila for treatment or to be checked, emergency services said.

One six-year-old girl was flown about 100 kilometres (60 miles) by helicopter to a major hospital in Salamanca.

A team of psychologists were comforting the victims' families, who were taken to the Avila sports stadium.

A tow-truck later towed away the ruined shell of the bus.

Nearby civil guards directed traffic and searched in the long grass beside the road where the metal barrier lay squashed.

It was the deadliest bus accident since April 2008 when nine Finnish tourists were killed in a crash in southern Spain's Andalusia region.

That accident was blamed on a drunken, speeding driver of a four-wheel-drive car who tried to overtake but hit the safety barrier and then collided with the bus.

In the last major bus accident in Spain on July 31, 2009, six Dutch tourists were killed and 39 injured when their bus overturned on a motorway curve near the northeastern city of Barcelona.

More recently, a dozen German tourists were injured August 11, 2011 when their tourist bus hit a wall in Manocor on the Balearic Island of Mallorca.