Hungarian official: Bus crash victim IDs could take days

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Posted: Jan 22, 2017 1:23 PM
Hungarian official: Bus crash victim IDs could take days

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — It could take days to officially identify the 16 people killed when a bus carrying Hungarian students returning from a ski trip burst into a fireball after crashing in Italy, Hungary's foreign minister said Sunday.

There were 54 passengers and two Hungarian drivers on the bus that crashed on an Italian highway near Verona just before midnight Friday, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said. Two adults hospitalized in critical condition also have yet to be identified.

Szijjarto, visibly shaken by news of the accident, said the days ahead would remain emotionally challenging.

"A day has passed since the tragedy, and it is clear that the pain is even sharper," he told reporters. "As the shock fades, the losses become even more excruciating. The long and more painful process, like the identification of the bodies, is about to begin."

Most of the passengers were students from a Budapest high school returning from a ski trip in France.

Four passengers remained hospitalized with serious injuries. Szijjarto said one of the unidentified adults in critical condition suffered third-degree burns on over 60 percent of his body, while the other person had undergone surgery for a serious head injury.

Szijjarto said the causes of the accident have yet to be determined. Italian officials said the bus burst into flames after hitting a highway barrier and then ramming into an overpass support column.

"The bus was practically fully destroyed by the pillar of the highway overpass," Szijjarto said. "For now, we can't responsibly say how exactly the bus got there and have not received any pertinent information."

Judit Timaffy, the Hungarian consul in Milan, said that a "hero professor" identified as physical education teacher Gyorgy Vigh dashed repeatedly into the bus pulling students to safety. Vigh lost two of his own children in the crash.

"He didn't succeed in saving the son and daughter," the consul said, according to the ANSA news agency. The teacher's wife was aboard and "she saw her daughter die. She didn't see her son at all, but unfortunately he was among the deceased."

The son has been identified as Balazs Vigh, a former ice hockey goalkeeper for Ferencvarosi TC in Budapest.

Hungarian rescue officials said that with exception of the two adults in critical condition, the rest of the injured and the other passengers were expected to arrive back in Budapest later Sunday. Hungary's national ambulance service was helping to bring back the injured from Italy, who would be taken to the Military Hospital.

The director of the Military Hospital said Sunday evening that the first two of the four injured expected in Budapest had arrived at the hospital, taken there by helicopter from the Budapest airport.

Robert Tamas said the two adults, a man and a woman, were between 50 and 60 years old suffering from second- and third-degree burns.

"Their condition is stable, they are communicating and psychologists have been treating them since the first moment," Tamas told reporters at the hospital.

Tamas said that a third seriously injured person was expected to arrive by ambulance from Verona on Sunday night, while the fourth and last patient, suffering from head injuries, was expected back Monday.

Hungarian psychologists had also traveled to Verona to help the survivors and their relatives cope with the aftermath of the crash.

Speaking outside the hotel where the survivors were lodged, the father of one of the students said his son had been only slightly injured "but in his soul he is completely depressed."

Candles were still burning on Sunday outside Szinyei Merse Pal high school, where hundreds of students, parents and friends took part in a vigil Saturday evening.

Hungarian police said they were cooperating with their Italian colleagues in the investigation and searches would take place at the headquarters of the bus company to gather information about the mechanical and technical conditions of the bus when it left Hungary and about any repairs it may have recently undergone, as well as the drivers' qualifications.

After conflicting reports about the number of people on the bus, Szijjarto confirmed that the passengers included 43 minors and 11 adults. Hungarian state media reported that 11 of the 16 dead were minors.

The minister said several parents who traveled to Verona had provided DNA samples to help with the identification process.

Szijjarto said he already spoken to the family of one of the reported victims, a young futsal player who belonged to the same sports club as the minister.

Hungary has declared Monday a national day of mourning in memory of the victims. Flags on public buildings will be flown at half-staff, and schools around the country have been asked to hold commemorations.

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Brian Hendrie in Verona, Italy, contributed to this report.