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BEIJING (AP) _ An overloaded bus veered off a highway and plunged into a river in western China, killing as many as 18 people, a police officer said Tuesday.

The driver appeared to lose control after entering a section of highway under construction in Ma Erkang County in Sichuan province, said the county police officer. He refused to give his name.

The bus fell almost 50 feet into a river, the officer said.

The bus was built to carry 18 passengers and a driver but had 23 people aboard, he said.

Five passengers were rescued and four bodies recovered, the officer said. He said the bodies of the 13 other passengers and the driver are apparently still in the water.