Sixteen people died, 15 of them children, and 42 were injured when a school bus plunged off a bridge and into a dam in Knysna on Wednesday morning, said Western Cape police.
“A police dive team remains on-scene to secure that all passengers are accounted for but at this stage it appears that all are accounted for,” said Captain Malcolm Pojie.
“Forty-two children have been taken to hospital and are being treated for minor injuries and shock.”
The children were pupils at the Rheenendal primary school and were on their way to school at the time of the crash.
“We not sure how many children were on the bus. We are retrieving it from the water and divers will continue to search for more bodies. The bus plunged off a lower bridge into a river that appears to have flooded during the night by heavy rainfall,” Pojie said.
Emergency services spokeswoman Kerry Davids said all the children were between the ages of seven and 14. She said the 42 injured were taken to hospital with back and neck pain, and mild hypothermia.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was shocked at the deaths.
“The department of basic education would like to send sincere condolences to the families of the learners, and indeed the entire schooling community,” she said in a statement.
Social workers and psychologists were on the scene counselling parents, school staff and children.
At least 60 people had died in six separate accidents this month, Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said in a statement.
“We cannot go on like this. This horrific road crash in Knysna... is yet again an unnecessary loss of lives,” he said.
The Road Traffic Management Corporation has sent an accident investigation team and reconstruction specialists to assist the investigation into the crash.
“We want to convey condolences to the families and colleagues of those killed, and wish the injured a speedy recovery,” Ndebele said.
Earlier, ER24 spokesman Andre Visser said the driver lost control of the bus and it rolled into the dam.
“The only part of the bus sticking out of the water is the rear.”
Police divers, paramedics and emergency services were on the scene.
Western Cape transport MEC Robin Carlisle said he was on his way to Knysna.
“We will obviously be there to find out the facts, to assist wherever we can and to ensure that if there has been any negligence or irresponsibility, that those found guilty will be savagely punished.
“This is an unspeakable tragedy and a bitter blow coming one day from the anniversary tomorrow of the Blackheath taxi crash that killed 10 children, on August 25 last year,” he said.
The children died when their minibus taxi was hit by a train after jumping a line of stopped cars at a level crossing at Blackheath in Cape Town.
Carlisle said he was being accompanied by education MEC Donald Grant, community safety MEC Dan Plato, and finance MEC Allan Winde. - Sapa