MUENCHBERG — Police believe 18 people died on Monday after a tour bus carrying senior citizens burst into flames following a collision with a semi-trailer in the southern German state of Bavaria.
A further 30 people were injured, many of them in serious condition after the inferno engulfed the bus, police in the town of Bayreuth said.
The accident on the A9 highway near the town of Muenchberg left the bus – carrying 48 people, including two drivers – a burnt-out wreck.
“The remaining persons are likely to have died in the burning bus,” police said. The cause was still under investigation.
Those who perished in the crash were aged between 66 and 81 years.
The driver at the time of the collision, who had worked for the bus company for 10 years, also died in the crash.
The authorities have not released his name, nor the names of any of the other victims.
The heat generated by the blaze initially kept firefighters from nearing the vehicle after they were first alarmed about the accident, officials said.
The tour bus was carrying a group of elderly Germans and left the state of Saxony, which borders Bavaria, in the early hours of Monday morning, heading to Lake Garda in northern Italy.
Several rescue helicopters joined about 250 emergency workers, police and fire service personnel at the scene of the accident. Police blocked the highway as rescue efforts continued.
Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the nation’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, expressed dismay at the news of the collision and extended their sympathy to the families of the victims of the accident, which occurred in heavy traffic at about 0500 GMT.
Both Federal Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt and Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann visited the accident site later on Monday.