Viaduto das Almas: the accident that nearly killed pianist Nelson Freire – Gerais

The Viao Cometa bus fell from the curved structure that took the title in another accident, in 1953 (Photo: O Cruzeiro/Arquivo EM – 13/9/1967)

On the morning of September 13, 1967, exactly 6:20 am. Belo Horizonte and Brazil woke up earlier, shocked by a traffic accident, radio stations first reported. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, by radios Guarani, Mineira, Inconfidência and Itatiaia. A sleeper bus belonging to Viao Comita, which was used to operate the Rio de Janeiro – Belo Horizonte line, has crashed from Viadoto das Almas. There were dead, and no one knew how many there were.

A reporter for Itaculome Television, the state’s main broadcaster at the time, was awakened by the ringing of his apartment doorbell. A neighbor was saying that they were calling from the station and asking him to respond quickly, because it was urgent. On the other side of the phone is the information that a very serious accident occurred, in one of the newest road artworks ever made in the country, which ended up becoming widely known as “Viaduto das Almas”, a The nickname was given in 1953, after a bus accident in which 14 people were killed.

The tragedy repeated early Wednesday morning and the reporter had to go to the scene immediately. The station car was already on its way to his house, with the photographer who was also a photographer. Thus, he can write articles for television and for the two newspapers, Estado de Minas and Dirio da Tarde.

Tuesday night, September 12th. At the bus station in Rio de Janeiro, passengers board bus number 1510, board 82-10-29, bound for Belo Horizonte, scheduled for departure at 9:00 pm. The deadline approached and three passengers did not show up. But the schedule had to be adhered to and the bus left.

Pianist Nelson Freire, in black, in a photo against a black background
Nelson Freire, one of the greatest Brazilian pianists, survived, but lost his father and mother in the accident (Photo: Benjamin Yulaviga/Advertisement)

Inside the bed bus – which was still a novelty at the time – there were some figures, such as the world-famous pianist Nelson Freire (1944-2021), then 22 years old and already well known, who was returning home with his parents, Jose Freire da Silva and Augusta Pinto Freire, both 59 years old.

There were also Zlia Marinho and Zelinha, the poster girl, the presenter of the children’s program Sunday “Roda-gigante”, on Itacolomi TV, and the actress, having worked in television series recorded in Rio de Janeiro and in television series, in the capital, Minas. Gerais.

Engineers Rubens Sells and Max Quest, Army Colonel Arnaldo Lopez, teacher Ada Maria Pogliolo, and 61-year-old Randolfo Xavier de Abreu, brother of Odiodio de Abreu, Secretary of the Treasury in Minas Gerais, were also on the bus. Robbins had in his bag, a check for 50 million Brazilian reais, which was a fortune at the time.

The ride was smooth until reaching the bridge. There is a tragedy. The first information was that one of the car’s tires had burst. Driver Lino de Abreu Circoeira Neto, from Rio de Janeiro, reportedly tried to control the bus, but was unable to prevent the car from hitting the weak rail and falling 80 meters into the ground, on the edge of Souls Creek.

The first version, however, has not been confirmed, because Leno was one of the dead. Firefighters worked to get the bodies out of the bus. Five of the dead passengers were thrown from the bus when the bridge collapsed.

People were pulled one by one. First, those that showed signs of life. Among them is pianist Nelson Freire. Alongside him were Eduardo López Canado, Director of Banco Econmico de Minas Gerais, and Paulo Richard, Director of Cometa. They were taken to Joo XXIII Emergency Hospital, in the capital of the state of Minas Gerais.

There were 18 passengers on the bus. Eleven seats were not filled. With the four survivors removed, comes the hardest time: the death toll. There were 14 in total.

Among them, Nelson Freire’s parents, Gus and Augusta. He did not receive the news until a later time after he received treatment in the hospital. Engineers Rubens and Max and teacher Ada and Randolfo were also killed.

Actress and presenter Zelinha in a black and white photo
The death of actress and presenter Zilinha, the star of Minas Gerais TV at the time, shocked her fans (Photo: O Cruzeiro/Arquivo EM – 1967)

Among the dead was a TV star from Minas Gerais: Zilinha. She was loved by young and old. She was that woman who walked into the house through the TV screen and it was always fun. She started her career as a radio actress, working for Rdio Mineira. After that, she became a poster girl for Itacolomi TV. He worked on local and national soap operas, which were recorded on TVTube, in Rio de Janeiro. And she won the greatest opportunity when she became the presenter of the children’s program “Rosa-gigante”, always on the screen of Itacolomi TV. His death, so to speak, shocked the whole city.

The other six passengers who died were Nicanor de Carvalho, Jo Benedetto de Abreu Negro, Dalila Lima Abreu, Ancio Figueiredo Lobato Cunha, and an unidentified person.

lucky three

Three passengers who bought tickets did not board the plane. They did not show up for the trip. The story of one of them drew attention, the story of the football player Derso Pantera, who began his football career in the club Ribeiro Junqueira, in the city of Leopoldina, where he was appointed by Cruzeiro. From the team in the capital, he moved to Bango, in Rio, and from there he went to Deportivo Italy (Venezuela), America and Vila Nova.

Derso was in Rio de Janeiro and would travel to Belo Horizonte to visit his family. However, he took a taxi, and on the way the tire blew. As a result, he was unable to reach the bus station in time. He said, in an interview with Estado de Minas, that he could not find another taxi in the bad place he was, and when he got to the bus station the bus had already left.


The Viaduto das Almas accident became the important news in Estado de Minas, Dirio da Tarde and TV Itacolomi. The investigations worked with three hypotheses. The first is that the driver fell asleep while driving, but had no way of proving it, because he died in the accident. The second is speeding. To reach a conclusion, the testimony of the three survivors was necessary – Nelson Freire, Eduardo López Canado and Paulo Richard. The third hypothesis is that hydraulic problems in the bus caused the driver to lose control of the steering, a suspicion that experience has ruled out.

Firefighters remove victims from a bus that was devastated by the aftermath of the disaster. (Photo: O Cruzeiro/Arquivo EM – 13/9/1967)

Nine days after the accident, on November 22, 1967, Nelson Freire gave an interview to the Estado de Minas, in which he exonerated the driver. According to him, “The bed bus has overtaken another Comet bus at the entrance to the bridge. The driver will try to control the steering and avoid collision.”

This testimony was crucial to reconsidering the third hypothesis despite the end of experience. This raised the suspicions of the investigators. In that interview, the pianist also said he received a telegram from French actress Henriette Moreno, saying: “I hope this pain makes you great. May your art be our refuge. I grieve you with all my heart.”

Unfavorable opinions about the construction of heights

At that time, several documents appeared that showed opinions against building the Viaduto das Almas in the way it was done: a curved bridge. Road engineering firm DNER warned that the builders had breached prudence standards, mainly because construction would take place after a descent, one on each side, and on top with a rail deemed weak and unable to contain any impact.

Opinions were futile, as nothing was done. The bridge continued to be used, and two years later, another accident occurred at the site. It was August 3, 1969, when another bus from Rio de Janeiro to Belo Horizonte crashed off the bridge, killing 30 people. No one has ever been tried for death.

Vila Rica Viaduct, popularly known as Viaduto das Almas, was opened in 1957. However, after two serious bus accidents that killed 44 people, a campaign began to demolish the place, which never happened, and a new one was created.

A project was undertaken in 1998. However, works only began in 2006. However, the opening of the new elevated highway, the Marcio Rocha Martins Bridge, took place only on October 26, 2010.

The new location is 2 km from the old Viaduto das Almas, at km 592 of BR-040. However, the opening took place without the completion of the works. The ramp containment was still not present and the channels were not completed.

The work took a long time and there were at least six postponements from the opening date. The initial estimate was at a cost of R$40 million, but the final value came to R$160 million.

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