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At least eight members of a B'nai Brith group were among 12 American tourists killed Wednesday when their bus swerved to avoid an approaching truck and tumbled more than 100 meters down a mountainside in northern Chile, US and Chilean officials said.
Two other members of the group were injured and are in critical condition. Also hurt were the driver and tour guide.
The B'nai Brith group had taken a side trip from a South American cruise on the Millennium, operated by Celebrity Cruises. The company's president, Dan Hanrahan, told reporters in Miami that the tourists were returning from an excursion to Lauca National Park when the bus plunged off the rugged highway near Arica, 2,000 kilometers north of Santiago. He said the company was flying some relatives of the victims, as well as company officials, to the scene.
He also said that the bus tour was not among those the cruise line offered to its passengers and Chilean officials said the bus was not authorized to carry passengers.
Dante Noce, Arica's municipal tourism director, confirmed the names and ages of the dead as Marvin Bier, 79; Shirley Bier, 76; Miriam Diamond, 76; Maria Egger, 71; Hans Wilhelm Otto Eggers, 72; Ira Arvey Greenfield, 68; Linda Gail Greenfield, 63; Arthur Joseph Kovar, 67; Frieda Kovar, 74; Carole Ellen Rochelman, 63; Barbara Rubin, 69 and Robert Rubin, 72. There was no confirmation on their hometowns. All but Ira Greenfield died at the scene, he said.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen of Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Connecticut, confirmed that Ira and Linda Greenfield of his congregation were among the dead.
Noce identified the injured as Harold Ruchelman, 67, and Bernard Diamond, 66.
Some of the victims also were from Monroe Township in central New Jersey, according to Eileen Marcus, an administrator at The Ponds, an age-restricted development there, though she did not specify which.
"It's a terrible tragedy. I have no words," said Rhoda Katz, 73, a resident of The Ponds, who added that several of the victims were friends of hers. "They looked forward to it so. Everyone that was going on the trip was very upbeat."
Hearing of the news while at a United Nations meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, B'nai Brith International President Joel S. Kaplan and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin both expressed their shock and deepest sympathy.
"We are devastated by the tragic and untimely deaths of our B'nai Brith brothers and sisters. These long-time active members of B'nai Brith and their Jewish communities will be sorely missed," said Kaplan and Mariaschin in a joint statement. "We extend our heartfelt condolences to their families and friends, as well as to all other members of the B'nai Brith group. And we pray for a speedy recovery for all those injured."
Kaplan asked Ram Tapia Adler, director of B'nai Brith Chile, to rush to the hospital in Arica to help comfort family members of the victims and the injured and assist in any way possible, according to the statement. A rabbi will accompany Adler, and both will offer comfort and condolences on behalf of B'nai Brith.
The bus "was not registered with the Transportation Ministry," said Jorge Caceres, head of the ministry's office in the region where the accident occurred.
The Millennium was docked in Arica, and the cruise line said the ship would remain there until further notice. It had been scheduled to leave for Peru early Thursday. The ship was carrying approximately 1,500 guests and 920 crew members.
The accident occurred 40 km. northeast of Arica on the road leading deep into the high Andes Mountains, connecting the coast with the Bolivian capital of La Paz.
US Embassy spokesman John Vance said the embassy was sending consular officers to Arica.
Hanrahan said the victims did not make the reservations for the bus trip through his company, and said Celebrity did not know the bus operator. "We have not worked with this operation before," he said.
The company encourages guests to go on tours vetted by Celebrity because it puts contractors through a rigorous safety review, he said, but added, "What we can't do is tell guests what to do on their own time.
"We continue to work with Chilean authorities and the US Consulate in Santiago to assist our injured guests and the family members of those who died in this tragic accident," said Hanrahan.
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