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Horror coach crash kills 16 in Hungary

‘Masses to hold National day of mourning’

BUDAPEST: Candles and flowers are placed at the Szinyei Merse Pal High-school in Budapest, to commemorate the victims of a bus accident in Italy.—AP

BUDAPEST: Hungary was yesterday, mourning 16 people killed when a coach carrying Hungarian teenagers home from a skiing trip crashed in northern Italy. The mass of flowers, candles and messages for the victims of Friday’s tragedy continued to grow outside the children’s school in central Budapest, which is getting ready to welcome students back today. The tragedy occurred when the coach crashed into a bridge pillar on a motorway near the northern city of Verona, then burst into flames. But investigators probing the cause of the crash have found no sign that the driver braked before the collision.

Some victims were catapulted out of the bus on impact but mostly they perished inside. Those who escaped did so by desperately smashing windows and leaping out. The crash has shocked Hungary which will hold a national day of mourning on Monday. Late on Saturday, several hundred people gathered outside Budapest’s Pal Szinyei-Merse secondary school in freezing temperatures to silently pay their respects as scores of tiny candle flames flickered. “I spent many happy years here,” said 24-year-old Timea Deutsch, who left the school five years ago. “It’s tragic.”

Victims’ identification difficult   
Speaking to AFP by phone, school director Gabor Jaky said the staff were making preparations so that everyone there could “convey the sadness and mourning we are all feeling.” “We are also working with counselors to help the children and their families work through this tragedy,” he said. “The majority of the children were 15-16 years old, so a number of classes were affected.” At the time of the crash, there were 56 people on board. As well as the 16 victims, another 28 people were injured, Italian police said. Two of the injured, both adults, were in critical condition, Hungary’s consul said late Saturday.

Flags will fly half-mast outside parliament on Monday as part of the day of mourning, the government said.  “Black flags will be hung on public buildings and schools should find a way to mourn the victims of this accident with dignity before and after classes,” it said. Cardinal Peter Erdo called on worshippers to remember the victims at church services around the country. “I am praying for the unfortunates who died and for the swift recovery of the injured,” Erdo said in a statement. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said yesterday that the victims were so badly charred that it may take several days yet to identify them all. He said the repatriation of the injured started yesterday.

Heroic teacher    
Hungarian police yesterday began their own enquiry parallel to that of the Italian authorities. Tibor Czako, head of the Pizolit company that owned the bus said it was “in good condition” and “road-ready” before the crash. Verona traffic police chief Girolamo Lacquaniti said Saturday no other vehicle was involved, suggesting a mechanical fault or human error was the cause. “The coach was travelling at quite a constant speed and we haven’t found any traces of braking,” Lacquaniti said on Italian radio. One of the two drivers on board was among those killed, Italian media reported.Judit Timaffy, Hungary’s consul, said the death toll could have been worse were it not for a teacher, who went back to rescue some of the children.

The teacher, whose son and daughter were reportedly on board, was thought to be one of those seriously injured. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban expressed his shock in a statement on Saturday, saying he was praying for “the families and loved ones of those affected by this tragedy.” And Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Orban enjoys good relations, also sent his condolences. “It is especially tragic that children and teens became the victims of the accident,” Putin wrote, according to a Kremlin statement.–AFP

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