| A policeman looks at the crushed German tourist bus at Lake Balaton near Siofok, Hungary. (AP)
Siofok (Hungary), May 8 (Reuters): A train sliced through a coach carrying German holidaymakers in Hungary today, killing 33 of the mainly elderly tourists and their driver as it hit the bus and dragged it down the tracks, police said.
The Budapest to Nagykanizsa train slammed into the coach just after 8.30 am (0635 GMT) as it crossed a railway line near Siofok on the shores of Lake Balaton, Hungary’s leading tourist area, police spokesman Laszlo Gelencser said.
The coach was carrying 37 passengers when it tried to drive across the railway line even though red stop lights had warned of an oncoming train, the head of the local disaster unit, Gyorgy Heizler, said. Twenty-nine people were killed in the crash, three died later in hospital. The driver was among the dead. The other six passengers were hurt, four seriously.
“The train, which was going full speed, practically sliced the bus in two and flattened one half, pushing it around 200 metres down the track,” Heizler told a news conference.
He said the death toll had risen after parts of one passenger’s body had been found among a mass of twisted metal from the coach which was wrapped around the front of the train.
Zoltan Mandoki, the head of Hungary’s national railways, blamed the accident on the coach driver, saying he had jumped the stop light.
“A full investigation is under way, but it looks like it’s the fault of the bus driver,” he said at the scene. The bodies of many of the dead, pulled from under the partially derailed train, were laid out by the tracks awaiting identification. Emergency services brought in wooden coffins.
Metal shards, torn bus seats and wires littered the tracks. Ambulances and emergency service helicopters ferried the injured to nearby hospitals.
Germany’s foreign ministry said it believed the passengers were from the northern states of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, but had no further details.
The German coach travel association said the passengers had booked their trip with travel operator Maxim Reisen in Cloppenburg, northern Germany.
That firm had then chartered a coach from Ursel Reisen in Loehne near Bielefeld. Ursel Reisen confirmed it operated the coach, but gave no details other than to say the passengers were of mixed ages.
Emergency service officials said they thought the Germans were staying at a hotel in Siofok, about 100 km southwest of the capital and a popular destination for tourists from Hungary’s ex-Communist neighbours.
Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy visited the scene with the German ambassador and expressed his shock.
“This is maybe the most horrific bus accident in Hungary’s history,” he said, adding he had contacted German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder about the crash.
Last July, 19 Poles were killed and 32 injured in the same part of Hungary when a bus taking them on a pilgrimage to Bosnia ploughed into a roundabout and overturned.
In September 1992, 16 German holidaymakers died in a bus crash in Hungary.
Mandoki told reporters 18 people were killed at the same rail crossing in a similar accident in 1982.
Medgyessy said his government would now look into whether more safety barriers should be installed at rail crossings.
(Additional reporting by Andras Muller, Denes Albert and Berlin bureau)