Bus crashes, catches fire in Bulgaria; at least 46 killed

Updated on Nov 24, 2021 02:55 AM IST

Seven people who leapt from the burning bus were rushed to the Pirogov emergency hospital in the Bulgarian capital Sofia and were in a stable condition, hospital staff said.

Officials work at the site of a bus accident, in which at least 46 people were killed, on a highway near the village of Bosnek, south of Sofia, on November 23, 2021.(AFP)
Officials work at the site of a bus accident, in which at least 46 people were killed, on a highway near the village of Bosnek, south of Sofia, on November 23, 2021.(AFP)
Agencies | By, Sofia

A bus carrying people home to North Macedonia from a tourist trip to Istanbul crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 46 people, authorities said.

Seven people who leapt from the burning bus were rushed to the Pirogov emergency hospital in the Bulgarian capital Sofia and were in a stable condition, hospital staff said. They had suffered burns and one had a broken leg.

The accident happened on the Struma highway about 30km west of Sofia around 2am local time.

North Macedonia’s chief prosecutor, Lubomir Jovevski, who visited the scene of the accident, said that 12 children were confirmed among the dead.

The cause of the crash was not immediately confirmed, but it appeared that the bus hit a highway guard rail, crashed and caught fire.

Bulgarian investigative service chief Borislav Sarafov said four buses from a North Macedonian travel agency had entered Bulgaria late on Monday from Turkey. “Human error by the driver or a technical malfunction are the two initial versions for the accident,” he said.

Photos taken shortly after the crash showed the bus engulfed in flames with plumes of smoke rising from the scene. Daylight revealed the burned-out bus, its windows all broken, charred and gutted, sitting upright against the median barrier.

Interior minister Boyko Rashkov told reporters at the crash site that he had “never in my life seen something more horrifying”. “The picture is horrifying, the people who were on the bus are turned to charcoal,” Rashkov said. “It is impossible to say how many they were. There were four buses that travelled together, and it is possible that passengers changed buses during the stops.”

Media in North Macedonia, a country of about 2 million people, said that police were outside the Skopje offices of a travel company that is believed to have organized the trip to Turkey.

Bulgarian caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev, who also visited the site of the crash, said it was “a huge tragedy”.

“I take this opportunity to send my condolences to the relatives of the victims,” Yanev said. “Let’s hope we learn lessons and we can prevent such incidents in the future.”

Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka wrote online that almost all of those who died in the crash were ethnic Albanians.

North Macedonia’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, arrived in Bulgaria to visit the survivors in the hospital in person.

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