More than 40 people died after a North Macedonian-registered bus travelling from Istanbul to Skopje caught fire on Bulgaria’s Struma Motorway in the early morning hours of November 23.
There were 52 passengers in the bus, including 12 children. Seven people have been admitted to Pirogov emergency hospital in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia.
The head of Bulgaria’s National Investigation Service, Borislav Sarafov, told a briefing that forensic specialists were to take DNA samples to establish the identities of those who had died. The driver of the bus was among the dead, he said. Sarafov estimated the death as 46.
North Macedonia’s Health Minister Venko Filipče, who travelled to Sofia along with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and other members of the country’s government, put the death toll at 45, including the 12 children.
North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani said that most of those on board the bus were from Skopje.
Bulgarian media reports said that initial information was that the bus was one of four that had entered Bulgaria through the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint. The buses had stopped at a fuel station shortly before the accident.
Nova Televizia quoted Pernik administration official Vasko Pirgov, who went to the scene in the early morning, as saying that after leaving the fuel station, the bus had collided with a sign and there had been a fuel station. The fire had started from the front of the bus, Pirgov said.
Bulgaria’s caretaker Interior Minister Boiko Rashkov told a briefing that examinations would have to establish the precise number of dead. It was not known whether any passengers had changed buses during the break.
The cause of the accident is yet to be established.
Zaev visited the injured in Pirogov and held a joint briefing with Bulgaria’s caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev.
Zaev said that two days of national mourning would be declared in his country.
Yanev and Zaev, whose countries have been caught up in tensions over Bulgarian policy on North Macedonia’s EU accession prospects, described the tragedy as a shared one. They declined to speculate on the reasons for the accident.
Zaev said that some passengers had escaped the fire by breaking the bus’s rear window.
With the death toll exceeding 40, this is the worst bus crash in Bulgaria in more than a decade.
(Screenshot via Nova Televizia)