Budapest (AFP) – Hungary was on Sunday mourning 16 people killed when a coach carrying teenagers home from a skiing trip crashed in 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 on Monday.
The tragedy occurred when the coach crashed into a bridge pillar on a motorway near the northern Italian 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.
– Victims’ identification difficult –
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 counsellors to help the children and their families work through this tragedy,” he told AFP.
“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.
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 Sunday that the victims’ bodies were so badly charred that it may take several days yet to identify them all. He said the repatriation of the injured could start Sunday.
– Heroic teacher –
Hungarian police on Sunday 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.
Hungary’s consul Judit Timaffy said the death toll could have been worse were it not for a teacher who went back to rescue some of the children but was unable to save his own son and daughter.
The teacher, Gyorgy Vigh and wife Erika, who was also on the trip, were told Sunday that their children had died, Timaffy told Italian media.
The couple themselves were out of danger and were due to be flown back to Hungary.
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.” [/restrict]