12 Children Among 45 Killed in Bus Crash, Investigation Underway as to Accident's Cause

A bus filled with tourists crashed and caught fire early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people in western Bulgaria. The fatalities included 12 children, according to North Macedonia's chief prosecutor Ljubomir Joveski.

A probe into what caused the crash is still underway, the Associated Press reported.

Bulgarian 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," he said. "It is impossible to say how many they were. There were four buses that traveled together, and it is possible that passengers changed buses during the stops."

The vehicle carrying tourists back from a trip to Turkey apparently ripped through a guardrail on a highway. Photos taken shortly after the crash showed the bus engulfed in flames with thick black smoke rising.

What's left of the vehicle is sitting in the median as a burned-out shell with its windows blown out. A portion of the guardrail was ripped away and lying in the middle of the road.

Seven people were taken to the hospital for treatment after the crash.

In 2019, Bulgaria had the second-highest road fatality rate in the 27-nation European Union, with 89 people killed per million, according to European Commission data.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Bus Crash, Bulgaria, 45 Killed
Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash that, according to authorities, killed at least 45 people on a highway near the village of Bosnek, western Bulgaria, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. The bus, registered in Northern Macedonia, crashed around 2 a.m. and there were children among the victims, authorities said. Minko Chernev/BTA Agency Bulgaria/AP Photo

"Let's hope we learn lessons from this tragic incident and we can prevent such incidents in the future," said Bulgarian Caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev, who also visited the crash site.

The country's prime minister, Zoran Zaev, traveled to Bulgaria as well, visiting survivors in the hospital. He told Bulgarian television channel bTV that one said he was awoken by an explosion.

His government observed a minute of silence Tuesday and declared three days of national mourning in the country of about 2 million people. Flags will be lowered to half-staff, and all public events will be canceled, authorities said.

Media in the country reported that police were outside the offices in the capital, Skopje, of a travel company that is believed to have organized the trip.

Borislav Sarafov, chief of Bulgaria's national investigation service, told reporters near the crash site that victims and eyewitnesses are being questioned.

Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka wrote online that almost all of those who died were ethnic Albanians—but it was not clear if they were also residents or citizens of North Macedonia, which is home to a significant number of ethnic Albanians.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed her condolences to the families and friends of those who died and said that "in these terrible times, Europe stands in solidarity with you."

Bus Crash, Bulgaria, 45 Killed, Firefighters, Forensics
Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash that, according to authorities, killed at least 45 people on a highway near the village of Bosnek, western Bulgaria, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. The bus, registered in Northern Macedonia, crashed around 2 a.m. and there were children among the victims, authorities said. Minko Chernev/BTA Agency Bulgaria/AP Photo