MIAMI - A charter bus carrying 32 members of a church group hit a concrete overpass at Miami International Airport after the driver got lost Saturday, killing two men on board and leaving three others critically injured, officials said.
The large, white bus was too tall for the 8-foot-6-inch entrance to the arrivals area, said airport spokesman Greg Chin. Buses are supposed to go through the departures area, which has a higher ceiling, he said.
Police said that one man, Serafin Castillo, 86, of Miami, died at the scene. A second man, Francisco Urana, 56, also of Miami, died later at a hospital.
The front section of a bus that hit a concrete overpass at Miami International Airport is shown Saturday, in Miami. The vehicle was too tall for the 8-foot-6-inch entrance to the arrivals area, and buses are supposed to go through the departures area which has a higher ceiling, according to an airport spokesperson.
Chin said passengers told him they were part of a group of Jehovah's Witnesses headed to West Palm Beach. Police said in a news release that the group had chartered the bus to take them to a church convention there.
The group was made up of congregation members of Sweetwater's Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, said Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maro.
"This is a tragic accident that has affected many families, as well as, our Sweetwater family," Maro said in a press release. "I am pursuing all avenues to get in touch with the appropriate persons to officially extend our help to the congregation and those who were hurt."
A phone number listed for the center in Sweetwater went unanswered.
At the airport, two large signs warn drivers of large vehicles not to pass beneath the concrete overpass. One attached to the top of the concrete barrier reads: "High Vehicle STOP Turn Left." The other, placed to the left of the driveway and several feet in front of the barrier, says all vehicles higher than the 8-foot-6 threshold must turn left.
Three people were at hospitals in critical condition. The other 27 surviving passengers were hurt, but their injuries were less extensive, authorities said.
Eight of the 14 patients taken to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital were in stable condition while two others were in critical, said hospital spokeswoman Lidia Amoretti. Three others were expected to be discharged later Saturday.
A majority of the injuries were facial due to the frontal impact, said Miami-Dade Police spokesman Det. Alvaro Zabaleta.
"People that are passengers on a chartered bus, you are putting total confidence on the driver and they're high back chairs," he said. "It's just like sitting on a plane. You really don't get to see anything in front of you until of course they felt the impact - the force takes them forward and a lot of them, the majority of them, were facial injuries."
Zabaleta said the driver was not familiar with the airport area and it was too early to say if charges would be filed.
"The preliminary info tells us that he wasn't too familiar with the area surrounding the airport, and that's what led him to take perhaps the wrong ramp that led him onto the property of the airport, and because of not being familiar with the airport, did not know or really see the height requirement in order for that bus to clear the overpass," he said. "Unfortunately, we all know, he misjudged it and that's what obviously caused the accident."