Emergency workers raced to the scene of a horrific head-on collision Friday between a bus packed with retirees and a truck near Bordeaux in southern France, which killed dozens, the worst traffic accident in France in more than three decades, news reports said.
At least 43 people died in the fiery crash, including a child who had been riding with the truck driver and whose body was found in the wreckage, French authorities said. The truck driver was also reported killed.
After the impact, both the truck and the bus, which was carrying the elderly retirees on a day trip through French wine country, burst into flames. Most of the victims died from severe burns, reports from the scene said.
Several people were also injured, some gravely burned, suggesting that the death toll could rise further, according to reports from France.
The crash occurred on a winding country road through a forested area — a road that French news reports said was known as dangerous. It was the worst crash in France since 1982, when 52 people, including 44 children, were killed in an accident in Beaune.
A grainy photo shown on the French television channel, BFMTV, showed smoke rising from the burned-out shell of the bus. Helicopters evacuated severely burned victims from the scene.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said that, as far as he could tell, all the passengers were French and from the region.
An official with the national gendarme service told the Associated Press that the high death toll in the morning crash, which occurred near the town of Puisseguin, came about because both vehicles caught fire after the collision.
French President Francois Hollande, on a visit to Greece, said the government was “totally mobilized” to help after what he called a “terrible accident,” reports said.
Hollande’s office said in a statement that Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve headed to the crash site just east of Bordeaux.
Valls, speaking to reporters near the scene, said eight people survived the accident, including four who were injured and in serious condition, the Associated Press reported. French news media said the bus driver was among those who survived.
Calling it an “immense tragedy,” Hollande promised an investigation into what happened. He also expressed “the solidarity of the whole nation” with loved ones of the victims.
Scores of emergency workers in the region were mobilized to help, reports said.
Gilles Savary, a lawmaker from the region, said on BFMTV that a bus company from the town of Libourne was leading the group on a tourist trip, the AP reported. The group had just left on the trip, reports said.
French media reports said some people managed to escape the blaze that followed the crash, mostly by breaking windows.
The entire circumstances of the crash were not immediately clear, according to Pierre Dartout, the top government official for the Aquitaine region, who announced an investigation into the crash.
Xavier Sublett, the mayor of the town where the crash occurred, said on France’s i-Tele television that the driver of the bus managed to open the door, allowing eight people to escape, the Associated Press reported.
The weather in the region was reported by news agencies to be overcast Friday morning but not rainy.