MEXICO CITY — A packed passenger bus plunged off a highway into a ravine in the Guatemalan highlands Monday morning, killing at least 38 people and injuring dozens, government officials said.
The accident occurred about 40 miles west of Guatemala City, in the department of Chimaltenango, according to a statement released by the federal government. The bus, which had more than 70 passengers aboard, was headed from the town of San Martin Jilotepeque, in Chimaltenango, to the capital.
Though the cause of the accident had not officially been determined, authorities suspected that the bus' brakes failed, sending it plunging off a cliff and onto a riverbank about 250 feet below.
Officials said the bus was "overloaded" with passengers, most of whom were indigenous Maya. Some children were among the dead.
About 30 of the injured were taken to the colonial city of Antigua for treatment, and two were taken to the capital and an undisclosed number to a hospital in Chimaltenango city.
Guatemala's affordable, brightly colored passenger buses, which are often repurposed American school buses, are a ubiquitous staple of the national culture and a crucial means of rural transportation in a country where 53% of the population lives in poverty. They often traverse treacherous mountainous terrain on unpaved roads that lack guardrails.
The country's worst bus accident occurred Feb. 28, 2008, claiming the lives of 48 people and injuring 27, according to the Guatemalan newspaper Siglo 21.