Sixteen people were killed and about 40 were injured when a bus carrying Hungarian students burst into flames on a highway in northern Italy, police and the fire service said on Saturday.
The number of victims could rise to 18, “but certainly no more than that”, the Hungarian consul in Italy Judit Timaffy told reporters in the city of Verona.
The bus went off the road near a highway exit close to Verona overnight. The local highway police chief said it was carrying mostly teenage students, teachers and parents.
“Many children among the victims of the accident in Verona, a bus catches fire on impact with a pillar,” national police said on Twitter.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told a news conference that the teenagers were from a Budapest secondary school, returning from their annual ski camp in France.
A spokesman for the minister told Reuters the school was the Szinyei Gimnazium.
The official passenger list included 54 people, Gabor Toth, director of the school, told national news agency MTI.
Toth said there were 36 students on board, some former students, three teachers and the family of one of the teachers.
Earlier Szijjarto said there was uncertainty over the exact number of passengers on board and that it was higher than the director of the school had known about.
A physical education teacher, who suffered severe burns, returned to the bus several times to save other passengers and all of the survivors were “well taken care of” with nobody suffering life-threatening conditions, said Timaffy.
All of the injured, ten of whom were assessed as “serious”, were in a Verona hospital and twelve other passengers, who were “well”, were staying in a hotel south of the city, the minister said.
Local highway police chief Girolamo Lacquaniti told TV channel SKY TG24 that some people had minor injuries, but others were more serious.
Lacquaniti said the cause of the crash would be investigated: “We are not aware of other vehicles being involved, it seems to have gone off the road of its own accord.”
The bus had left France around 1630-1700 CET and the two drivers had a shift change approximately an hour before the accident took place, shortly before midnight, said Timaffy.
Both drivers were Hungarian, state news agency MTI wrote, quoting an unnamed employee of the bus provider, denying earlier press reports that one was French.
The company employee added that the bus was from German company Setra, had a capacity to seat up to 59 people, was in good condition and that the drivers were experienced.
“There was a lot of black smoke coming out of the back of the bus,” a truck driver who was driving behind it before it went off the road told SKY TG24.
Police released photographs and television footage of the burned-out hulk near a road bridge. The wreckage had been removed from the road by around 0800 GMT.
“With my prayers, I am with the families and friends shocked by the tragedy,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a statement sent to MTI.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni called Orban in the morning to express his condolences, the Hungarian government said on its website.