BERLIN (AP) — Eighteen people are feared dead after a bus carrying a group of German senior citizens crashed into a truck on a highway in Bavaria early Monday and burst into flames, police said.
Thirty people were injured in the early-morning accident, some seriously, while 18 still considered missing “are believed to have died on the burning bus,” police said in a statement.
Some 200 emergency crews were at the scene and helicopters whisked away the injured to nearby hospitals. Simple wooden coffins were wheeled in for the remains recovered from the blackened, twisted wreckage of the bus.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked the emergency crews involved and sent the government’s transport minister, Alexander Dobrindt, to the scene.
“Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and we wish all those who were injured a speedy recovery,” she said.
Authorities said forensic specialists were being brought in from Germany’s federal police office to remove and identify bodies from the charred vehicle. Police spokeswoman Irene Brandenstein said the work was labor intensive because the bus was so badly damaged by the fire.
“The investigation of the accident is very complex and time-consuming,” Brandenstein told The Associated Press.
The accident took place around 7 a.m. when the bus rear-ended the trailer-truck at the end of a traffic jam on the A9 highway near Muenchberg in Bavaria, not far from the Czech border.
The accident led to long traffic jams on the A9, the main thoroughfare from Berlin to Munich. The highway remained closed on both sides for hours and police tweeted later that the road leading south would be shut down for the entire day.
It was not immediately clear what caused the initial traffic jam.
Two drivers and 46 passengers were on the bus, Brandenstein said, adding it was not known if the person driving the bus at the time was dead or alive.
By the time firefighters arrived and extinguished the flames, the bus was a black, smoking skeleton.
Police said the group on the bus was seniors from Saxony in eastern Germany. The German news agency dpa reported that all passengers were Germans.
A phone number was activated to provide family members with information.