Driver Questioned in Israel Bus Crash

APA bulldozer on Wednesday towing a wrecked bus from a ravine near Eilat, where it crashed killing 24 Russians.
BEN GURION AIRPORT, Israel -- Relatives of Russian tour operators injured in a horrific bus crash arrived in Israel on Wednesday, and Israeli defense officials say an air force plane will fly the dead and wounded from the fatal accident back to St. Petersburg.

The defense officials say the Israeli aircraft is set to fly to Russia on Wednesday.

Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said the crash occurred as the Israeli driver, who is being questioned by police, tried to overtake another bus.

The 49 Russians on board had been in Israel only a few hours on Tuesday for a training trip when their bus traveling from Ovda airport veered off a desert road near the Red Sea resort city of Eilat and plunged down a ravine.

An earlier toll put the number of dead at 26, but the Russian Embassy said Wednesday the final number was 24.

The crash was the worst in Israel for years. It drew condemnation from politicians and road safety activists who said more needed to be done to fight high road fatalities. The 25 Russian survivors suffered varying degrees of injury.

An Israeli police officer told Israel Radio that the investigation was in its initial stages and no conclusions had yet been drawn about the cause of the crash.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the investigation was focusing on whether the bus driver lost control while trying to overtake another vehicle.

Israel is a favorite destination for Russian tourists. Some 230,000 Russians visited the country in the first nine months of 2008 and the tourism ministry expects the number to rise to 400,000 in 2009.

(AP, Reuters)