Bosnek – North Macedonia called for three days of national mourning after a tourist bus carrying its citizens caught fire and crashed in Bulgaria on Tuesday, killing 46 people in Europe’s deadliest road accident in the past decade.
Although the cause has yet to be determined, officials believe the bus crashed into the guardrails and caught fire while returning from Istanbul in Turkey to Skopje in North Macedonia.
Those who died trapped in the burning bus – including four year old twins, according to media reports – were mostly from North Macedonia, prompting the government to declare three days of mourning.
The flag of the Republic of North Macedonia will be flown at half-mast. Bulgaria has also declared a day of mourning on Wednesday.
Only four men and three women, including a 16 year old girl, survived the crash by breaking one of the windows and jumping to safety, according to officials.
‘Lost my whole family’
“I lost my whole family in the blaze,” one man told the Sloboden Pecat newspaper, saying ten relatives had died.
Media in North Macedonia reported that several of the dead were from a Skopje primary school, where all classes were stopped.
The accident happened after midnight on a highway about 40km from Sofia, near the village of Bosnek. Many of the dead were between 20 to 30 years old, officials said.
Local media said the bus was registered with the Besa Trans tourist agency, which organises sightseeing and shopping tours to Istanbul.
It was one of four buses travelling back to Skopje along the same highway at short intervals.
Images showed the carcass of the charred bus after it broke through the highway’s central guardrail.
Bulgaria’s interim Prime Minister Stefan Yanev said a probe into the accident had been launched, dismissing suggestions that road conditions were to blame.
Deputy chief prosecutor Borislav Sarafov said they were still investigating ‘if it was a technical fault of the vehicle or a human error that caused the crash’.
North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told state news agency MIA that he had spoken to one survivor.
“He explained that they were sleeping in the bus when an explosion was heard. They succeeded in breaking one of the windows and saved a few people. Unfortunately, the rest did not succeed,” he said.
Bulgarian national police chief Stanimir Stanev said the bus driver died ‘immediately so there was no one able to open the doors’.
Bulgaria’s Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov, who was among those who rushed to the site of the crash, described the scene as ‘terrifying’.
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen sent her ‘deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who perished in the tragic bus accident’ and wished ‘a fast recovery to those injured’.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also expressed his ‘sincere condolences’ and said he hoped for ‘the speedy recovery of all those wounded’.