Bus crashes, catches fire; at least 45 dead
A bus carrying tourists back to North Macedonia crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people, including a dozen children, authorities said. DNA tests were being carried out to identify the victims.
The bus apparently ripped through a guard rail on a highway, though authorities said the cause was still under investigation. Photos taken shortly after the crash showed the vehicle engulfed in flames as plumes of thick, black smoke rose. Daylight revealed a burned-out shell with all of its windows blown out, sitting in the median. A portion of the guard rail was lying in the road.
Seven survivors were hospitalised after the crash, which took place as a group of buses was returning from a trip to Turkey. Twelve children were among the dead, according to the North Macedonia chief prosecutor, Ljubomir Joveski.
Bulgarian Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov told reporters at the crash site that he had “never in my life seen something more horrifying,” and that the identification process would take time.
“The people who were on the bus are turned to charcoal,” Rashkov said. “There were four buses that travelled together, and it is possible that passengers changed buses during the stops.”
Borislav Sarafov, chief of Bulgaria’s national investigation service, confirmed that 52 people were on the bus that crashed.
Among the survivors were five North Macedonia citizens, one Serb and one Belgian, according to North Macedonia’s Foreign Ministry. Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka said almost all of the dead were ethnic Albanians, but it was not clear if they were also citizens of North Macedonia.
Blagoj Bocvarski, North Macedonia’s transport minister, told reporters in the capital of Skopje late Tuesday that officials have started a procedure to revoke the transportation licence of the travel company that owns the bus. He said the company has four buses licensed to carry passengers internationally, but for the bus involved in the accident “there was no record in the ministry that it possessed the licence”.
News of the crash hit hard in the small Balkan country of two million people. The North Macedonia government observed a minute of silence on Tuesday and declared three days of mourning. Flags will be lowered to half-staff, and all public events will be cancelled. The country’s prime minister travelled to Bulgaria, as did its chief prosecutor, who visited the crash site.
Azem Sadiki, mayor of Studenicani municipality, near Skopje, told reporters that 20 of the crash victims were local residents. He said the dead included a mother and her four children, as well as the woman’s sister and her two children.
“We are very sad. This is a huge loss for us all, and the whole country,” Sadiki said
In 2019, Bulgaria had the second-highest road fatality rate in the 27-nation European Union, with 89 people killed per million, according to European Commission data.
In response to the deadly crash, the Bulgarian government declared Wednesday a national day of mourning for the bus victims. The occasion will also mark the deaths of nine people who died in a nursing home fire on Monday in the eastern Bulgarian village of Royak.