Bus and train disaster in Hungary kills 32 tourists

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The Independent Online

An express train crashed at full speed into a double-decker German tourist coach on a level crossing in Hungary yesterday morning, killing 32 tourists and the driver.

An express train crashed at full speed into a double-decker German tourist coach on a level crossing in Hungary yesterday morning, killing 32 tourists and the driver.

Hungarian police said the bus driver had ignored flashing lights at the crossing, which did not have gates.

"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," the head of the local disaster unit, Gyorgy Heizier, told a press conference.

Istvan Galos, a witness, said: "There was an enormous crashing sound when the train hit the bus and I saw parts of the bus flying through the air. The train blew its whistle twice, but it was not able to stop in time.

"I've never seen anything like it in my life," said Mr Galos, a 39-year-old engineer. He had been approaching the crossing in his car from the opposite direction when the crash happened. "There were limbs hanging out of the smashed windows of the bus."

Laszlo Gelenscer, a police officer, said: "The scene is just horrible."

Zoltan Mandoki, head of Hungary's national railways, said: "A full investigation is under way, but it looks like the fault of the bus driver."

The accident happened near the town of Siofok, a resort on the shores of Lake Balaton, the biggest lake in central Europe and one of Hungary's most popular tourist attractions.

Mr Galos said there were two tour coaches with German licence plates travelling together. He said he saw the first bus cross the tracks while the warning lights were still flashing white, but as the second tried to cross they were already flashing red.

"The train blew its whistle twice to warn the bus, but the train was not able to stop in time," he added.

The impact not only tore the bus in half but caused the half that took the direct hit to be wrapped around the front of the train like a tin can. The engine of the train was derailed but otherwise suffered only minor damage. The train driver was injured.

The accident happened at just after 8.30am local time, said Captain Tamas Hekker, a police chief. Witnesses said that after being sliced in half the bus burst into flames. Thirty people were killed outright, according to Mr Hekker. One died while being taken to hospital by helicopter and another died in hospital. The other six passengers were hurt, four of them seriously.

Peter Medgyessy, the Hungarian Prime Minister, visited the crash site with the German ambassador and said: "This is maybe the most horrific bus accident in Hungary's history." Mr Medgyessy said he had called Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, to express his condolences.

The crash is expected to fuel a debate in Hungary on the risks of ungated level crossings, which are still common. Mr Medgyessy said his government would look into the question of whether more barriers should be installed at level crossings. Lake Balaton draws more than 2 million tourists from spring to autumn every year, many of them Germans, lured by the vineyards and serene countryside as well as the reputedly therapeutic effects of the mineral-rich waters.

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