As emergency doctors fought on August 26 to save the lives of people in critical condition after the previous day’s bus crash near Svoge that took 16 lives, Bulgarian authorities were seeking answers to how the accident happened.
A day of national mourning has been declared for August 27 after the accident that took place on Saturday evening on the Svoge-Sofia road. The death toll is the highest in a bus accident in Bulgaria since 16 people died when a bus ran out of control near Yambol in May 2009.
The August 25 accident happened when the bus, allegedly over the speed limit on a curve being pelted with heavy rain, first collided with three oncoming cars and then overturned, falling about 20 metres into a clearing below the road.
An emergency meeting of Cabinet ministers and other senior officials was called by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov on August 26 to assess the situation concerning the Svoge accident.
Speaking after the meeting, Health Minister Kiril Ananiev confirmed the death toll of 16, and said that 21 people were injured. Two passengers were in Pirogov emergency hospital in Sofia on artificial respiration.
Six people were being treated in St Anna hospital, one of them, a 62-year-old, in critical condition. Two people were in stable condition at the Military Medical Academy, while a 59-year-old man – understood to be the driver and owner of the bus company – was in stable condition in Sofia’s Tsaritsa Joanna hospital.
Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov told the briefing that the bus had undergone a technical inspection in April but had missed an August 5 deadline for a further technical check-up.
Tsatsarov said that an examination of the tachograph had established that at the time of the accident, the bus had been travelling at 53 km/h in a zone with a 40km/h speed limit.
Several media reports also highlighted that at the time of the crash, there was heavy rain on that stretch of road.
Attention also turned to the state of the road itself. Regional Development Minister Nikolai Nankov said that the section of road had been repaired in 2016 and according to officials at the time who inspected it, had been in “excellent condition”.
This, however, was contradicted by other officials and other reports, which said that the road repair had been inadequate.
Transport Minister Ivailo Moskovski said that his ministry had carried out a comprehensive inspection of the Mobilus 5 bus company in April 2018. No shortcomings had been found. The driver of the Svoge crash bus, also the manager of the company, had passed a psychological fitness test.
In the case of the August 25 2018 Iskar Gorge crash, it is possible that few or none of the passengers were wearing seat belts, according to Nastimir Ananiev, head of the Bulgarian National Assembly’s transport committee.
This was because the bus was older than 10 years and thus not subject to the statutory requirement to have seat belts fitted, he said.
Ananiev said it was also unclear whether the passengers had insurance because it had not been established whether they had been issued tickets for the charter bus, which had been taking people from two villages on an excursion to a monastery.
He said that a few days ago, there had been a report from the Road Safety Institute about that stretch of road, which in spite of a 22 million leva repair, had serious shortcomings. Less than two years after the repair work, the asphalt was compromised in several places, according to the report.
The institute’s Bogdan Milchev told local media that at the beginning of August 2018, there had been numerous complaints from motorists about the stretch of road in the Iskar Gorge being in poor condition in spite of the costly repairs two years before.
In Bulgaria, a total of 65 people have died in six major bus accidents in the past 10 years.
The worst during this period so far was the May 2009 accident near Bakadjik Peak near Yambol, in which 16 people died and 20 were injured.
In June 2011, eight people died when a bus overturned and caught fire on Trakiya Motorway near Karlovo.
In November 2017, nine people died and 17 were injured after a bus collided with a lorry near Mikre.
In April 2017, six people died and 26 were injured after a car struck a glancing blow to a bus on Trakiya Motorway, sending the bus hurtling into a ditch.
Among EU member states, Bulgaria had the second-worst rate of road accident fatalities in 2017, according to official EU figures.
(Photo: Bulgarian Interior Ministry press centre)