A bus carrying German senior citizens on vacation crashed into a truck today on a highway in Bavaria and burst into flames, killing 18 people and injuring 30 others, some seriously, officials said.
The accident took place around 7 am when the bus rear- ended a trailer-truck at the end of a traffic jam on the A9 highway near Muenchberg, not far from the Czech border. The accident led to long traffic jams on the A9, the main thoroughfare from Berlin to Munich.
It was not immediately clear what caused the crash, but prosecutors have opened an investigation.
The bus seemed to have caught fire immediately upon impact with the truck, Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt told reporters after touring the crash site. The truck's trailer also burst into flames.
"Two people are still in life-threatening condition," Dobrint said.
Two drivers and 46 passengers were on the bus. The remains of all bodies were recovered from the bus, including that of the driver at the wheel during the crash, police said.
Police said the truck driver was not injured.
Some 200 emergency crews rushed to the scene and five helicopters whisked the injured to nearby hospitals. Simple wooden coffins were wheeled in for the remains recovered from the blackened, twisted wreckage of the bus.
Police said the ages of those on the bus ranged from 41 to 81 and they were primarily from the eastern German state of Saxony. The news agency dpa reported that all the passengers were German.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked the emergency crews involved.
"Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and we wish all those who were injured a speedy recovery," she said.
Dobrindt said when firefighters first arrived, the fire was so hot that they couldn't get anywhere close to the burning vehicle to rescue those stuck inside.
"All they could do was extinguish the fire," he said. "The heat was so strong that nothing that's inflammable is left from the bus - only the steel frame."
The A9 highway remained closed on both sides for hours. Police tweeted later that the A9 highway going south would be shut down for the day.