Workers clearing rocks from a landslide discovered a bus underneath the rubble Friday morning, and there was little hope that the 27 believed to be on board and two other missing people were still alive, authorities said.
The landslide in central China's Hubei province on Tuesday had already killed one worker who was building a railway tunnel on the side of the mountain. Another worker was injured and two were missing.
Checkpoint records showed 27 people were aboard the bus, said Tang Mingyi, deputy director of the propaganda department in Badong county, Enshi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture.
"There's little hope that they're still alive," he said, referring to both those on the bus and the two missing workers.
The landslide left a 50-meter gash on the side of the mountain, with a tangle of metal at the bottom.
The accident happened amid rising criticism over the environmental impact of the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower project, on the Yangste River in Hubei. Local officials and environmentalists have said China faces a catastrophe if it fails to stop riverbank erosion, pollution and other problems.
Seismic activity in area has increased as water pours into formerly dry slopes composed of rock, soil and sediment, some of it highly porous. That is causing splits and fissures, often deep below the surface, while weakening hillsides and causing soil and shale to come loose.
However, the government's Xinhua News Agency has suggested there was no evidence of a connection between the dam and the landslide, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) to the west. The agency said landslides were common in the "brittle terrain" where the accident occurred.