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HANOI - A crowded overnight bus plunged off a bridge into a river in central Vietnam, killing 34 people and injuring 21 others in one of the country’s deadliest road accidents.

The 50-seat coach lost control and ripped through the bridge’s guardrails Thursday night, diving about 160 feet and landing on its top, partially submerged in the Serepok River, said local official Tran Bao Que.

“When the accident happened, everyone in the bus was sleeping,’’ survivor Nguyen Van Khanh told news website Dan Tri. “I vaguely heard a noise like gunfire and then people were screaming when the bus was overturned. . . . I managed to escape through a window that was smashed opened by others.’’

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Survivor Trinh Van Mui, 34, said he was dozing on the back seat holding his 3-year-old daughter on their way to visit his father in a nearby province.

“I just heard a big boom and was knocked unconscious. I later found out that I was in the hospital with pain over all my body,’’ he told the Associated Press by telephone from the hospital, saying he remembered nothing else from the crash.

He suffered only minor cuts and bruises, but his daughter was transferred to a hospital in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City with internal injuries and broken limbs.

Que said it took rescuers four hours to pull the bodies from the bus, which was traveling on a regular 217-mile route from the central highland province of Dak Lak to Ho Chi Minh City.

Rescuers used axes to try to free trapped passengers. Photos showed a body hanging limply out the side of the ripped-open vehicle, which was hoisted out of the river by crane early Friday morning.