At least 16 people have died after a bus taking Hungarian students home from a school ski trip to France slammed into a highway barrier in northern Italy and burst into flames.
Thirty-nine other people survived the crash on a highway near Verona, with 26 injured, some seriously.
The impact of the crash was so violent that an overpass support column tore through the bus, officials said.
The ensuing fireball burned some of the 16 dead beyond recognition, with a twisted steel skeleton all that remains of the bus.
One teacher managed to save some of the children, suffering serious burns to his back as he did so, according to Judit Timaffy of Hungary’s consulate, who was at the scene of the crash.
“The kids told me that the fire started and they escaped from the fire, breaking the windows of the bus,” she said.
“Some of them managed to escape, but many were left inside.”
No other vehicles were involved, and the cause is not known, police commander Girolamo Lacquaniti said.
Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said: “One passenger is currently in an induced coma and in life-threatening condition.”
According to Mr Szijjarto, the bus driver lost control of the vehicle, which hit a guard rail before the overpass support and then exploded. Investigators found no brake marks at the scene, he said.
Ms Timaffy said investigators are looking into the possibility the driver fell asleep at the wheel.
RAI state radio said a Slovenian truck driver travelling behind the bus had noticed a problem with one of its wheels and tried to alert the driver. But the bus driver did not react quickly enough, RAI said. The Slovenian truck driver stayed at the scene, trying to help, until investigators arrived.
In Budapest, a black flag flew above the Szinyei Merse Pal Gimnazium school. About 60 students gathered for a vigil outside, lighting small candles and laying flowers in memory of the victims.
“We knew many of them, but the ones we were closest to and in daily contact are mostly all right,” student Tamas Mezo said after placing candles at the school’s door.
He said the school organised a ski camp each year, involving about 50-60 students and a few teachers.
“I was very much planning on going this year but in the end it didn’t work out,” Tamas said. “There were three or four teachers on the bus and unfortunately one of them did not survive. Our hearts our hurting because we loved him. He was really nice.”
Survivors had been taken to a nearby hotel and were being interviewed by investigators. The parents of some of the children are heading there to bring them home.
Hungary’s foreign ministry said it was told that there were 54 passengers and two drivers aboard, but it believes the actual number was higher.
Condolences came in from Italy’s president and its foreign minister, as well as the German chancellor Angela Merkel.