SOFIA, Bulgaria — At least 45 people, including 12 children, died as a bus carrying mostly North Macedonian tourists crashed in flames on a highway in western Bulgaria on Tuesday, officials said.
Seven people who leaped from the burning bus were rushed to hospital in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, and were in stable condition, hospital staff said. Bulgaria's interior ministry said 45 people died, one fewer than the toll given earlier.
The cause of the accident was unclear but the bus appeared to have hit a highway barrier either before or after it caught fire, Bulgarian officials said.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
Television footage showed the bus charred and gutted by fire in the middle of the highway.
"We have an enormous tragedy here," Bulgarian interim Prime Minister Stefan Yanev told reporters.
Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov said: "People are clustered inside and are burned to ash."
"The picture is terrifying, terrifying. I have never seen anything like that before," he told reporters at the site.
Bulgarian investigative service chief Borislav Sarafov said four buses from a North Macedonian travel agency had entered Bulgaria late on Monday from Turkey.
"Human mistake by the driver or a technical malfunction are the two initial versions for the accident," he said.
The accident happened on Struma highway about 45 km (28 miles) west of Sofia around 2 a.m. (7 p.m. Tuesday Eastern).
North Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani said the coach party was returning to Skopje from a weekend holiday trip to Istanbul.
"I am terrified. This is such a huge tragedy," North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told private television channel BTV.