An overcrowded tour bus lost control on a slope and flipped over Thursday, killing 17 members of a local religious group and injuring 45 others. The driver was arrested on charges of dangerous driving.
After visiting the injured, Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang told reporters it was the city's worst traffic accident in recent years. A double-decker bus crash killed 21 people in 2003.
Local TV reports from Thursday's crash scene showed mostly elderly passengers covered in blood and wincing in pain as they were being pulled from the bus. The battered vehicle's windows were shattered, and it was leaning against a road barrier in the suburban district of Sai Kung.
"We're still investigating the cause of the accident. We will look at whether it was due to speeding or whether there was anything wrong with the parts of the bus," said Ho Chak-kan, acting police superintendent.
Ho said the driver was arrested and accused of dangerous driving that caused death. But Hong Kong Cable TV quoted the driver as saying the brakes failed before the accident.
The bus, with a maximum legal capacity of 55 people, was carrying 62 passengers on the religious group's outing during the public May Day holiday, fire official Li Hung-sam told reporters.
Li said the roof of the bus collapsed after hitting a road barrier at a traffic circle and that hindered rescue efforts.
"Firemen had to climb inside the wreckage to save all the passengers. Inside the wreckage, all the passengers are trapped by the distorted seats," Li said.
Most of the victims were critically injured, suffering head injuries, severe bleeding and broken bones, Li said. Most of those who died were women, he added.