SOFIA, BULGARIA – A bus carrying North Macedonians home from a tour to Istanbul crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday morning, killing at least 45 people, authorities and vehicles local media said.
The accident happened around 2 a.m. and there were children among the victims, authorities said. Seven people were taken to hospitals for treatment.
The cause of the crash was not immediately confirmed, but it appears the bus hit a highway guardrail, crashed, and caught fire.
The bus was one of four people traveling together. Officials said an investigation would be launched.
Photos taken shortly after the crash showed the bus engulfed in flames with thick plumes of black smoke rising from the scene.
Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov told reporters at the crash site that he had “never seen anything more terrifying in my life”.
Rashkov said: “The picture was horrifying, the people on the bus were turned to coal. “It is impossible to say how many they were. There were four buses that went together, and it is possible that the passenger changed buses during the stops.”
Bulgarian Prime Minister Stefan Yanev, who also visited the site of the crash, told reporters it was “a great tragedy”.
“I take this opportunity to extend my condolences to the families of the victims,” Yanev said. “Let’s hope we learn from this tragic incident and that we can prevent such incidents in the future.”
Bulgarian news agency Novinite said representatives from the North Macedonian embassy visited the hospital where some of the victims were taken.
North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told Bulgarian TV channel bTV that he spoke with one of the survivors on the bus.
“One of the passengers told me he was sleeping and woke up from an explosion,” Zaev told bTV, adding that authorities would collect information “important to his family.” the dead and the survivors.”
According to European Commission data, in 2019, Bulgaria, an EU country with 7 million people, had the second highest road death rate in the 27-nation bloc with 89 deaths per million inhabitants, according to European Commission data.