Thirty Vietnamese war veterans killed in bus crash en route to celebrate 30th anniversary of Vietnam War's end

Thirty Vietnamese war veterans and a driver were killed in a bus crash Thursday while en route to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, police said.

The crash occurred at about 7:30 a.m. on the old Ho Chi Minh trail - which has been converted into a highway - in Kon Tum province about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Danang when the bus rounded a curve and plummeted about 70 meters (yards) off a mountain into a valley, said A Tri, district police chief.

Only two of the 33 people aboard survived and all of the bodies have been recovered, he said.

The veterans, including 14 women, were aged 60-70 and had fought for Vietnam's independence against the French and the Americans, he said. They were all from one neighborhood in Hanoi.

Tri said 29 people died on the spot, while two others died on the way to a hospital.

National broadcaster VTV aired footage showing the burned wreckage at the bottom of a deep ravine and rescuers hauling up the bodies wrapped in plastic.

Kontum's deputy police chief Le Duy Hai said dozens of police and soldiers were involved in the recovering the bodies, which were taken to Danang. The site was so steep that rescuers had to pull themselves up the slopes with rope, he said.

The veterans left Hanoi on Monday as part of a tour to visit old battlefields with plans to arrive in the former South Vietnam capital of Saigon to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the end of the war on April 30, said a local official from Hanoi who gave his name only as Lien.

On Thursday afternoon, a small group of elderly men huddled over a list of those killed, searching for names they knew, at a local government office in the Kim Lien precinct of Hanoi.

"I was very shocked to hear the news. It's a tragedy and a big loss for our people," said one man, 83, a veteran of the Vietnam War and Dien Bien Phu who knew two of the victims. He declined to give his name but said "They were my friends."

Another woman in the neighborhood said her husband, also a veteran, had wanted to go on the same bus trip but he couldn't afford the 3 million dong (US$189) cost.

"It's a big shock and a big pain. They went on that trip to visit the battlefields but it turned out to be a big funeral for them," said Pham Thi Tan, 70. "We were very lucky."

MARGIE MASON, Associated Press Writer

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Author`s name: Editorial Team