(Updates number of dead and injured)


Sixteen people died and 22 were injured in southern Chile when a small bus carrying fans of a local soccer team skidded off the highway and plunged down a ravine in southern Chile, an accident the country mourns and which once again spotlights the safety problems of those vehicles.

According to the regional government's official list, among the dead was a 1-year-old boy who was apparently the son of the bus driver, 38, who was also killed in the accident. The other fatalities were youths between ages 15-28, all men except for a 25-year-old woman.

Their remains were to be flown Saturday to Santiago and from there to Rancagua, where thousands of people gathered Saturday afternoon in the city's main square to pay them homage.

The small bus, property of the Trans O'Higgins company and hired by the fans, was neither obliged to keep a list of passengers nor come equipped with safety belts, as buses of greater capacity are required to do.

Nonetheless, an investigation is underway to determine whether it was carrying more passengers than allowed and if some of them were standing, since, according to a registry of the Transport Ministry cited by the daily El Mercurio, the vehicle had a capacity for 27 passengers.

The accident occurred around 2:00 a.m. Saturday near the town of Tome, when for unknown causes the vehicle went off the road and crashed down a cliff almost 150 meters (490 feet) high.

The bus was carrying some 30 fans of the O'Higgins FC soccer club, who had been to Talcahuano to see their team's 2-0 win over Huachipato in Chilean soccer-league play.

"Horrible tragedy in Tome, our most sincere condolences to all our Great Blue Family, strength to the families of the victims," the O'Higgins club said on its official Twitter account.

Meanwhile Chile's professional soccer association declared in a communique an official period of mourning for the institution and announced that a minute of silence will be observed in all stadiums this weekend.

Saturday's and Sunday's scheduled soccer matches in Chile will therefore not be suspended. EFE