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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 05:58 GMT
Chile bus crash kills US tourists
Police inspect the wreckage of the bus which crashed near Arica, Chile (pic AP/Diario La Estrella)
The bus was carrying passengers to their cruise ship when it crashed
Twelve US cruise ship passengers have died in Chile after a bus carrying them from a visit to a national park plunged into a ravine, officials have said.

Two more Americans are said to be in a serious condition. The Chilean bus driver and a tour guide were also hurt.

The vehicle was on its way back to the US-owned Millennium cruise ship, which had arrived in the Chilean city of Arica on Wednesday.

An Arica official said the driver may have lost control avoiding a truck.

The crash happened at about 1630 (2030 GMT) as the bus was returning from the Lauca national park to Arica, about 2,000km (1,250 miles) north of the capital, Santiago.

The Millennium's operator, Celebrity Cruises, said the group had been on a privately-arranged tour.

US embassy spokesman John Vance confirmed that the 12 killed were American citizens and said consular officials were being sent to Arica.

'Dangerous road'

Arica city spokesman Juan Pablo Poli said it seemed the driver of the 16-seater bus had lost control trying to avoid an oncoming truck that had just rounded a bend.

"The road passes several cliffs and is very curvy... a dangerous road," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Regional governor Patricia Perez said the bus had tumbled 80m (262ft) down a ravine.

Police, fire and ambulance services were sent to the scene, she said.

A statement on the website of Celebrity Cruises, which is owned by Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises, said the passengers had been "on an independent private tour, not affiliated with the cruise line".

A doctor and nurses from the ship have been sent to help the injured, the company said. Relatives of those killed are being flown out to Chile.

Dan Hanrahan, president of Celebrity Cruises, said: "We continue to work with Chilean authorities and the US consulate in Santiago to assist our injured guests and the family members of those who died in this tragic accident."

The ship, carrying about 1,500 passengers and 920 crew, will remain in Arica until further notice. It had been scheduled to sail for Peru early on Thursday.

The Millennium is on a 14-day cruise which left Valparaiso in Chile on 19 March and is due to terminate in Florida's Fort Lauderdale on 2 April.

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