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I Was Part of the Media Circus Surrounding Spain's Deadly Bus Accident

A local news station sent me to cover one of the deadliest accidents in recent years, as a roadside became a makeshift TV set for a human tragedy.

This article originally appeared on VICE Spain

On Sunday morning, I got a call from a long phone number I didn't recognize:

"Alba, can you go to Tarragona to cover the bus accident?" It was the editor of a local TV news show, asking me to cover the story of one of the deadliest road accidents to take place in Spain in recent years. Two hours later, I was at kilometer 333 of the AP-7 highway surrounded by dozens of other reporters, who looked like they'd just received the exact same wake-up call as me.


On Sunday morning, a bus carrying Erasmus students from Valencia to Barcelona crashed near the town of Amposta, 95 miles south of Barcelona. The accident took place less than about 150 miles away from my place, so I remember trying to remind myself that no matter how rushed I was, it was important to avoid speeding while driving to the site. I also remember listening to the radio and writing down every detail I thought would be essential to properly cover the story—I still remember the words "14 deaths" on my palm [that number was later changed to "13"].

I got there, and it was obvious that the authorities were doing their best to manage the catastrophe. A group of 50 therapists specialized in accidents had been set up at a hotel nearby, so the unharmed passengers would get the support they needed. All journalists had gathered just off the site of the accident—on a roadside that would become the makeshift TV set for a human tragedy.

I tried to imagine what happened to the 13 girls who lost their lives in that bus lying a few feet ahead of me. I found it hard to understand how the driver was so lucky—or so unlucky—to survive. Apparently, he swerved to the left after driving momentarily on the solid line and ended up invading the oncoming lane and crossing the central stripe, which is lined with plants and trees—as if that stripe was the most appropriate place to rest.

Politicians, university personalities, and experts in disaster management paraded the scene of the accident throughout the day.


I saw TV hosts fixing their makeup while memorizing frivolous text in front of the Dantesque scene of the accident. Anyone of us could have been victims—you, me, a sister, a cousin—yet the reporters maintained a calm demeanor and eyeliner perfectly applied. As I waited for instructions, I stared at the onlookers hanging around the scene as if the only thing missing was a box of popcorn. A couple even left their seven-year-old daughter locked in the car, so they could take a closer look the moment the firefighters pulled the seats out of the vehicle to retrieve the bodies.

I heard through the radio that the authorities were going to give a press conference at the nearby hotel. The Head of the Regional Police Department, Joan Jané, began to assess the tragedy. We were informed that more than ten hospitals from the area were engaged in assisting all injured and that hotels from Barcelona and Valencia also participated by providing rooms.

To me, the most shocking moment was when they announced that two out of the 13 dead bodies could not be identified. It turned out that the girls had changed buses in the last minute; they had just made friends with some of the original passengers and had decided to join them on the journey. How a swift decision can end your brief life in three seconds.

Everything about the day had been perfectly orchestrated—almost as if it had been previously rehearsed. Politicians, university personalities, and experts in disaster management paraded the scene of the accident throughout the day, providing very little information that was of actual use. When one reporter found out that the first hearse had arrived, we all flocked to the morgue. Nobody saw any of the survivors, but I can imagine what would have happened if we had: All the reporters would have jumped on them like hungry beasts, trying to get the best story, and, if possible, some tears.

Seventeen forensic experts were working to identify the bodies, which made me think I should carry my ID on me at all times. It's probably best to spare your family the suffering of having to identify your body in case of an accident. The victims' relatives had been asked to bring along DNA samples or anything else they could find—things like rubber bands, descriptions of tattoos, or recent photos of the deceased girls. This morning, I found out the nationalities of the victims. That kind of detail isn't really important but people like to know: Seven of the women were Italian, two were German, one was Romanian, one was French, one was Uzbek, and the last one was Austrian. Some of the families have already arrived in Spain. I can picture the victims' parents calling on Saturday night, asking their daughters to let them know when they'd reached their destination. But that obviously never happened.