Bus fire in Bulgaria: 12 out of 45 children killed in accident
Authorities believe the bus was carrying a total of 52 passengers, most of whom were tourists from North Macedonia, when the incident occurred at around 3 a.m. local time on Tuesday.
The bus, registered in North Macedonia, was traveling on the Struma highway west of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. The bus driver was among the dead, according to Bulgarian National Television (BNT).
After initially reporting 46 deaths, authorities later said it was not clear whether 45 or 46 people had died, BNT reported.
Authorities said seven people – two women and five men – who were traveling in the back of the bus survived by smashing windows to escape. They were taken to Pirogov Emergency Hospital in Sofia and are in stable condition.
Authorities added that identifying the dead would be difficult as the bodies were badly damaged by the fire, BNT reported.
Bulgarian Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov, who visited the crash site, told reporters he saw bodies “clustered inside” and “burned to ashes”. He said “the photo is terrifying”, adding “I have never seen anything like it before”.
The cause of the crash was not clear, but the bus appears to have struck a motorway barrier before or after it caught fire, Bulgarian officials said.
Footage from Nova TV Bulgaria showed the charred remains of the bus on the side of the highway, with the mutilated barrier stuck under the vehicle.
Emergency responders were seen standing near fire trucks and a police van as an investigator in white protective gear monitored the scene taking photos. Behind the vehicle, damage to the center divider was visible with debris strewn on both sides of the road.
Speaking alongside Rashkov, the director of the Bulgarian National Investigation Service, Borislav Sarafov, called the incident a “huge tragedy” and offered his condolences to the families of the victims.
Sarafov said the bus was one of four belonging to a North Macedonian tourist company that entered Bulgaria on Monday evening from Turkey, BNT reported. The bus was returning from Istanbul to Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia – a journey of about 800 km (500 miles) – when the accident occurred.
At this point in the investigation, Sarafov said authorities were exploring two possible causes of the crash. “One is human error by the bus driver, the second is a sudden technical malfunction, which led to the accident,” he said, according to BNT.
BNT reported that Rashkov added: “There is a guardrail here, which was simply removed, which means that for some reason the bus went right in the direction of travel and entered into contact with the guardrail, which was simply destroyed. We have heard all kinds of reports including a fuel leak. I hope that will be clarified very soon and that the colleagues in the investigation will do their job.
Authorities will also investigate the section of highway where the accident occurred, which is prone to traffic incidents, according to BNT.
Zaev said the passengers were all from North Macedonia but appeared to include a Serbian citizen and a Belgian citizen. It was not clear whether the two were among the casualties or the injured.
Zaev said he spoke to one of the seven survivors who told him the passengers were asleep when they were awakened by the sound of an explosion.
He said people sitting in the back of the bus were able to smash a window and jump over it.
Zaev said the passengers came from various communities in North Macedonia, a country of 2 million people that borders Bulgaria and is home to an ethnic Albanian minority.
In Skopje, ethnic Albanian Osman, 31, told Reuters he came to the travel agency’s office with his brother and sister to seek information on their parents.
“We don’t know if they were on the crashed bus or not. We have no information about them. The agency is not answering the phone. We may have to go to Bulgaria,” he said. he declared.
Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka said the passengers were from the ethnic Albanian community in North Macedonia.
“Great pain for the 45 lives of Albanians from North Macedonia lost in the tragic accident in Bulgaria,” he said on Twitter.
Bulgarian authorities have opened an investigation into the incident, state media reported.