Bus crashes, catches fire in Bulgaria; at least 45 dead

Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_19854 This image made from video provided by Nova TV shows emergency service workers beside a burnt out bus in Bosnek, Bulgaria, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus crash in western Bulgaria early Tuesday has killed dozens of people, authorities said.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_31853 This image made from video provided by Nova TV shows road signs and police roadblock near scene of bus crash in Bosnek, Bulgaria, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus crash in western Bulgaria early Tuesday has killed dozens of people, authorities said.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_24816 In this image made from video provided by Nova TV, a burnt out bus is seen after a crash in Bosnek, Bulgaria, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus crash in western Bulgaria early Tuesday has killed dozens of people, authorities said.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_79747 This image made from video provided by Nova TV shows emergency service workers beside a burnt out bus after a crash in Bosnek, Bulgaria, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus crash in western Bulgaria early Tuesday has killed dozens of people, authorities said.
APTOPIX_Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_40469 Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash which, 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.
Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash which, 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. 
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_40469 Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash which, 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.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_43725 Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash which, 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.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_43368 Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash which, 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.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_75006 A motorway is cordoned off after a bus, seen at center, crashed overnight near the village of Bosnek, western Bulgaria early Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus carrying North Macedonians home from a tourist trip to Istanbul crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people, authorities and local media said.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_74674 A motorway is cordoned off after a bus, seen at center, crashed overnight near the village of Bosnek, western Bulgaria early Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus carrying North Macedonians home from a tourist trip to Istanbul crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people, authorities and local media said.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_99343 A motorway is cordoned off after a bus, seen at center left, crashed overnight near the village of Bosnek, western Bulgaria early Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus carrying North Macedonians home from a tourist trip to Istanbul crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people, authorities and local media said.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_57269 Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash which, 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.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_09852 North Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev speaks to media as he arrives to visit injured passengers at a hospital in Sofia, Bulgaria, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021 after a bus crash which killed at least 45 people, according to authorities, on a highway near the village of Bosnek, western Bulgaria. The bus, registered in Northern Macedonia, crashed around 2 a.m. and there were children among the victims, authorities said. 
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_58134 Firefighters and forensic workers walk at the scene of a bus crash which killed at least 45 people, according to authorities, 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. 
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_78908 North Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, left, and Bulgarian Caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev hold a press conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021 after a bus crash which killed at least 45 people, according to authorities, on a highway near the village of Bosnek, western Bulgaria. The bus, registered in Northern Macedonia, crashed around 2 a.m. and there were children among the victims, authorities said. 
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_63100 Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash which, 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.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_34505 Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash on a highway near the village of Bosnek, western Bulgaria, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus carrying tourists back to North Macedonia crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people, including a dozen children, authorities said.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_Northern_Macedonia_33838 Police officers guard the offices of travel agency Besa Trans in Skopje, Northern Macedonia, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus carrying tourists back to North Macedonia crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people, including a dozen children, authorities said.
This image made from video provided by Nova TV shows emergency service workers beside a burnt out bus in Bosnek, Bulgaria, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus crash in western Bulgaria early Tuesday has killed dozens of people, authorities said.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_88037 Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash on a highway near the village of Bosnek, western Bulgaria, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus carrying tourists back to North Macedonia crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people, including a dozen children, authorities said.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_73877 Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash on a highway near the village of Bosnek, western Bulgaria, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus carrying tourists back to North Macedonia crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people, including a dozen children, authorities said.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_56620 Ljubomir Joveski, left, North Macedonia's chief prosecutor and Borislav Sarafov, right, chief of Bulgaria's National Investigation Service, speak to the media at the scene of a bus crash which, 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.
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_Northern_Macedonia_71021 A man stands in front of a closed travel agency Besa Trans in Skopje, Northern Macedonia, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. A bus carrying tourists back to North Macedonia crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people, including a dozen children, authorities said.
APTOPIX_Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_43007 Firefighters and forensic workers inspect the scene of a bus crash which, 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. 
Bulgaria_Bus_Crash_93232 A police officer exits the "Pirogov Emergency Center, in Sofia, Bulgaria, Tuesday evening, Nov. 23, 2021. According to authorities, at least 45 people were killed in a bus crash on a highway near the village of Bosnek, western Bulgaria, early Tuesday. The bus, registered in Northern Macedonia, crashed around 2 a.m. and there were children among the victims, authorities said.
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SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — A bus carrying tourists back to North Macedonia crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people, including a dozen children, authorities said. DNA tests were being carried out to identify the victims.

The bus apparently ripped through a guardrail on a highway, though authorities said the cause was still under investigation. Photos taken shortly after the crash showed the vehicle engulfed in flames as plumes of thick, black smoke rose. Daylight revealed a burned-out shell with all of its windows blown out, sitting in the median. A portion of the guardrail was lying in the road.

Seven survivors were hospitalized after the crash, which took place as a group of buses was returning from a trip to Turkey. Twelve children were among the dead, according to the North Macedonia chief prosecutor, Ljubomir Joveski.

Bulgarian Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov told reporters at the crash site that he had “never in my life seen something more horrifying” and that the identification process would take time.

“The people who were on the bus are turned to charcoal,” Rashkov said. “There were four buses that traveled together, and it is possible that passengers changed buses during the stops.”

Borislav Sarafov, chief of Bulgaria’s national investigation service, confirmed that 52 people were on the bus that crashed.

Among the survivors were five North Macedonia citizens, one Serb and one Belgian, according to North Macedonia’s Foreign Ministry. Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka said almost all of the dead were ethnic Albanians, but it was not clear if they were also citizens of North Macedonia.

Blagoj Bocvarski, North Macedonia’s transport minister, told reporters in the capital of Skopje late Tuesday that officials have started a procedure to revoke the transportation license of the travel company that owns the bus. He said the company has four buses licensed to carry passengers internationally, but for the bus involved in the accident “there was no record in the ministry that it possessed the license.”

News of the crash hit hard in the small Balkan country of 2 million people. The North Macedonia government observed a minute of silence Tuesday and declared three days of mourning. Flags will be lowered to half-staff, and all public events will be canceled. The country’s prime minister traveled to Bulgaria, as did its chief prosecutor, who visited the crash site.

Azem Sadiki, mayor of Studenicani municipality near Skopje told reporters that 20 of the crash victims were local residents. He said the dead included a mother and her four children as well as the woman’s sister and her two children.

“We are very sad. This is a huge loss for us all, and the whole country,” Sadiki said.

Outside the government building in Skopje, Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani told The Associated Press that authorities are “trying their best to identify the victims as soon as possible.”

“The identification of the victims has started,” he said. “The autopsy and also the DNA identification, because for some of the victims that is the only way they can be identified.”

Osmani added: “Two things are important for us now, first the identification to finish as soon as possible, and second, to find the cause of the accident.”

The country’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, who visited survivors in the hospital, told Bulgarian television channel bTV that one said he was awoken by an explosion.

In Skopje earlier, relatives gathered outside the travel company believed to have organized the trip but the office appeared closed.

“Now we are waiting for bad news,” a distraught Bekim Aliti told reporters outside the building. He said his wife and his brother’s wife were on the trip.

Eldin Shiroki said his cousin was a tour guide for the company. “We still don’t have any accurate information — so we are waiting,” he said.

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.

“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.

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

In response to the deadly crash, the Bulgarian government declared Wednesday a national day of mourning for the bus victims. The occasion will also mark the deaths of nine people who died in a nursing home fire Monday in the eastern Bulgarian village of Royak.

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This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the North Macedonia chief prosecutor’s last name. It is Joveski, not Jovevski.

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McGrath reported from Bucharest, Romania. Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, North Macedonia, contributed.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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