A bus is lifted out of the Yangtze River by a floating crane in Wanzhou in southwestern China's Chongqing Municipality. Picture: Wang Quanchao/Xinhua via AP, File

Beijing, China - A scuffle between a driver and a passenger caused their bus to plunge from a bridge into a river in southwest China, killing at least 13 people, police said Friday.

Dramatic video footage of Sunday's crash shows a woman striking the driver over the head with an object, prompting him to hit back with one hand. The woman then lashes out once more.

The driver then suddenly yanks the wheel hard to the left and the bus veers onto incoming traffic, striking a car before breaking through the rails of the bridge crossing the Yangtze River, in the southwest city of Chongqing.

Thirteen bodies have been pulled out of the river, but two remain missing. A total of 15 people were on board the bus.

Local police say the female passenger involved in the fight, a 48-year-old local, went up to the driver and asked to be let out after missing her stop.

When the driver refused, the two began shouting and using "aggressive language", police said on their Weibo account -- China's equivalent of Twitter.

Search and rescue teams dispatched more than 70 boats, as well as a team of scuba divers and underwater robots, to find the wreckage and retrieve bodies from the water.

"Fifteen lives were lost in an instant -- the lessons from this are very painful," police said.

Deadly road accidents are common in China, where traffic regulations are often flouted or go unenforced.

According to authorities, 58 000 people were killed in accidents across the country in 2015 alone.

Violations of traffic laws were blamed for nearly 90 percent of accidents that caused deaths or injuries that year.

AFP