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Bus crash kills 20 in Germany

Twenty people are killed by a fire on board a bus on a German motorway set off by a passenger smoking in the toilet.

Firemen work on the wreckage after a bus caught fire on an autobahn near the north German city of Hanover, Germany, November 4 2008.
Firemen work on the wreckage after a bus caught fire on an autobahn near the north German city of Hanover, Germany, November 4 2008.

Twenty people have been killed by a fire on board a bus on a German motorway set off by a passenger smoking in the toilet, police said today. In Germany's deadliest such incident in 16 years, the coach burst into flames at 8.40pm local time yesterday on a motorway just outside the northern city of Hanover. The driver quickly pulled over, but in the panic to escape the inferno rapidly engulfing the bus only around a third of the mostly elderly passengers managed to get out.

Twelve people were injured, police said, several of whom were being treated for serious burns in a nearby hospital. Police said that it was not the result of a crash with another vehicle but that it had been caused by one of the passengers smoking in the bus toilet who failed to extinguish properly his cigarette. When smoke began pouring out of the toilet door another passenger opened it and flames shot out, setting the entire interior of the Mercedes coach in flames in seconds.

The bus, operated by a Hanover firm, was said to be returning home from a day trip to the picturesque small town of Haltern am See in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. "I am deeply shaken by the dreadful fate of the victims of the fire," the transport minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said. "My sympathies go out to their loved ones."

He added that there had to be a "close" examination into what caused the accident. It was Germany's worst coach accident for 16 years. In 1992, 21 people were killed and 35 injured in a crash in the Black Forest region of southwestern Germany. * AFP