SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) – Human error is believed to be the most likely cause of the Bulgarian bus crash and fire that left 44 people dead, including 12 children, a Bulgarian official said Thursday.
The bus with 52 people on board, mostly citizens of North Macedonia, was one of four returning Tuesday from a trip to Istanbul, Turkey. It crashed into a railing in western Bulgaria, burst into flames and was reduced to a charred shell. Authorities said the passengers were trapped because the two exits were blocked.
The cause of the accident, which caused a wave of pain in neighboring Balkan countries, is being investigated.
Borislav Sarafov, deputy attorney general and head of the national investigation service, ruled out a terrorist act on Thursday, adding that investigators determined there was no explosion.
Sarafov told a press conference in Sofia that for the moment “the main version (of the incident) is human error.”
“The guardrail on the highway where the accident happened is dangerous and is one of the main causes of the crash,” he said. He added that investigators are examining whether problems such as a lack of lane markings and reflectors may have contributed to the accident.
Principal Investigator Marian Marinov said the bus driver had tried to brake but crashed into the railing, probably because it was dark and raining.
“Witnesses have said that immediately after the crash flames broke out and the bus filled with smoke,” he added.
“No one could get out the front door because of the big flames there. They all went to the second door in the center of the bus, but it was blocked by the railing ”.
Sarafov said forensic investigators have found 44 bodies so far, one less than the 45 initially reported. He said that the discrepancy was a “mystery” and that it was a matter of determining whether one of the passengers had previously passed another bus or had survived the accident.
Seven people are known to have survived: five citizens of North Macedonia, one Serb and one Belgian. They were taken to the Pirogov emergency hospital in Sofia and their condition is stable.