It is the deadliest bus accident in the last ten years in Europe. At least forty-six people died on the night of Monday 22 to Tuesday 23 November, in Bulgaria, in a bus accident. Most of the victims were from North Macedonia, where the bus was registered, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said.
The passengers were from different ethnic minorities. A Belgian and a Serb are also dead, according to Zaev. “It’s a great tragedy”, he reacted. “Twelve of them were under 18”, including five children, “And the others were between 20 and 30 years old”. According to local media, they were on their way to Skopje, the Macedonian capital, returning from a trip to Turkey.
The tragedy occurred around 2 a.m. (1 hour in Paris), on the highway, near the village of Bosnek, 40 kilometers by road south of Sofia, said Commissioner Nikolay Nikolov, head of the service of fight against disasters, which was speaking on Bulgarian National Television (BNT). “Seven passengers were saved” and transferred to a hospital in the capital, he said. Mr. Zaev immediately went to their bedside.
“The driver died instantly, so there was no one to open the doors” and allow passengers to escape the fire, National Police Chief Stanimir Stanev said on another channel. It is the most serious coach accident ever to have occurred in Bulgaria, according to the authorities.
The seven survivors, who were in the back of the vehicle, “Managed to break one of the windows” and to escape from the blaze, according to the story of one of the survivors. They are part of the same family and among them is a 16-year-old girl, said Macedonian health minister Venko Filipce, also on site.
Opening of an investigation
The images broadcast on television showed the black carcass of the coach, which violently struck the guardrail before igniting. The road was recently renovated with funds from the European Union (EU), of which Bulgaria has been a member since 2007. Bulgarian interim Prime Minister Stefan Yanev has announced the opening of an investigation, ruling out the hypothesis that the condition of the road is in question.
The last serious coach accident in Bulgaria dates back to August 2018: seventeen passengers died as the vehicle drove through torrential rain, with Bulgarian tourists on board returning from a visit to a monastery in a mountainous region to the north from Sofia.
Bulgaria, a country of 6.9 million inhabitants, recorded 628 road deaths in 2019 and 463 in 2020, a figure below average due to health restrictions which limited travel. This is one of the highest balance sheets in the EU, due to poor road conditions, the dilapidated vehicle fleet and frequent speeding tickets.