Bulgarian authorities reported that at least 45 people were killed, including 12 children, when a bus caught fire and crashed into a highway in the western parts of the region on Tuesday, marking a horrific moment for the families of the victims.
Officials said that the bus was carrying 52 people, including the children, when it suddenly swerved through the guardrail on a highway near the village of Bosnek. The incident occurred at around 2:00 a.m., local time, said the Bulgarian Interior Ministry.
Bulgarian Bus Crash
Authorities discovered that the bus had Macedonian plates and was making a return weekend trip with three other buses from Istanbul to Skopje, which is the capital of North Macedonia, said the ministry. Witnesses observed as some people inside the bus started to jump through the vehicle's windows in an attempt to escape the fire. The driver and a number of young children were among the victims.
Photographs of the incident showed the charred remains of the vehicle on the roadside as the Bulgarian interior minister, Boyko Rashkov, visited the site on Tuesday. The official said that the incident was "horrifying," adding that the victims' bodies were burned until they became ashes. It made it difficult to identify the dead, the New York Times reported.
Authorities are still unsure about the cause of the accident as emergency responders stood near fire trucks and a police van while an investigator wearing a white protective suit observed the scene, taking photographs. It could also be seen that behind the vehicle, the damage to the center divider was visible with debris strewn across the two sides of the highway.
The director of Bulgaria's National Investigation Service, Borislav Sarafov, speaking alongside Rashkov, said that the incident was a "huge tragedy" and expressed his sympathies to the families of the victims. The official said that investigators were initially looking at two possibilities that could have caused the incident.
Cause of the Horrifying Accident
First, they said it could have been a human error of the bus driver, and second, it could have been a sudden technical malfunction, leading to the swerving of the bus. "There is a guardrail here, which was simply taken away, which means that most likely for some reason the bus went to the right in the direction of travel and came into contact with the guardrail, which was simply destroyed. We heard all sorts of versions, including a fuel leak. I hope it will be clarified very soon and the colleagues from the investigation will do their job," said Rashkov, CNN reported.
Albania's foreign minister said that the majority of the passengers of the bus were ethnic Albanians coming from North Macedonia. The Macedonian prime minister, Zoran Zaev, said he had already talked with one of the survivors who were able to escape the burning bus who was asleep and awoken by the sound of an explosion.
In an interview, Zaev told reporters that the survivor revealed he and six others broke the bus' windows and managed to escape with their lives, BBC reported.