World

Fiery bus crash kills 16 in Italy, many Hungarian students

A bus carrying Hungarian school students home from a skiing trip to France slammed into a highway barrier in northern Italy and caught fire, killing at least 16 people, police said Saturday. Thirty-nine people reportedly survived, though some were seriously injured.

Officials say 39 people survived, but 26 were injured

Flames engulf a bus near Verona, Italy. Police say 16 people died after the bus, carrying Hungarian students returning home from France, crashed into the side of a highway. (Lanfranco Fossa/Associated Press)

A bus carrying Hungarian students home from a school ski trip to France slammed into a highway barrier in northern Italy and burst into flames, killing at least 16 people, police said Saturday. Thirty-nine others survived.

The impact of the crash just before midnight was so violent that the overpass support column actually entered into the bus, officials said. The ensuing fireball torched the bus, leaving just a skeleton of twisted steel.

Nevertheless, one teacher managed to save some of the kids, suffering serious burns to his back as he did so, said Judit Timaffy, of Hungary's consulate, who was at the scene of the crash.

"The kids told me that the fire started and they escaped from the fire, breaking the windows of the bus," she said. "Some of them managed to escape, but many were left inside."

The gutted remains of the bus are shown. Officials say 39 others survived the crash, though some are seriously injured. (Antonio Calanni/Associated Press)

No other vehicles were involved in the crash on the highway near Verona, and the cause wasn't known, said a tearful police commander Girolamo Lacquaniti.

Of the 39 survivors, 26 were injured, some seriously, he said.

"One passenger is currently in an induced coma and in life-threatening condition," Hungarian Foreign Minister Szijjarto told reporters in Budapest.

No brake marks at scene

According to Szijjarto, the bus driver lost control of the vehicle, which hit a guard rail before the overpass support and then exploded. Investigators found no brake marks at the scene, he said.

Timaffy said investigators were looking into the possibility the driver fell asleep at the wheel.

RAI state radio said a Slovenian truck driver travelling behind the bus had noticed a problem with one of its wheels and tried to alert the driver. But the driver didn't react quickly enough, RAI said. The Slovenian truck driver stayed at the scene, trying to help, until investigators arrived.

In Budapest, a black flag flew from a flagpole above the door of the Szinyei Merse Pal Gimnazium. About 60 students gathered for a vigil outside the school, lighting small candles and laying flowers in memory of the victims.

People comfort each other in front of Szinyei Merse Pal Gimnazium, a school in Budapest, Hungary. The students and faculty involved in Saturday's bus crash attended the school and were returning home from a ski trip at the time of the accident. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

"We knew many of them, but the ones we were closest to and in daily contact are mostly all right," student Tamas Mezo said after placing candles at the school's door.

He said the school organized a ski camp each year, involving about 50 to 60 students and a few teachers.

"I was very much planning on going this year but in the end it didn't work out," Mezo said. "There were three or four teachers on the bus and unfortunately one of them did not survive. Our hearts our hurting because we loved him. He was really nice."

By Saturday afternoon, the survivors had been taken to a nearby hotel and were being interviewed by investigators, the ANSA news agency reported. The parents of some of the children were heading there to bring them home.

Hungary's Foreign Ministry said it was told that there were 54 passengers and two drivers aboard, but said it believes the actual number was higher.

Condolences came in from Italy's president and its foreign minister, as well as the German chancellor.