Twenty die in German bus fire
A cigarette is suspected of causing the blaze, officials say.
Hanover -- German investigators on Wednesday sought to discover how a fire began in the toilet of a coach and quickly spread through the vehicle, killing 20 pensioners on a day's outing.
Uwe Schuenemann, interior minister of Lower Saxony state, stressed the cause of the fire on Tuesday evening, on a highway just outside the northern city of Hanover, had not been discovered yet.
Prosecutors opened a criminal inquiry to establish whether individual(s) were responsible for the fire, which had completely burned down the passenger area while leaving the lower half of the coach largely unscathed.
Passengers said they saw smoke come from the closed toilet and when the door opened flames roared out and spread through the vehicle's interior.
The bus was towed to a police compound during the night with the remains still inside.
There was speculation that a passenger may have surreptitiously smoked in the toilet. In Germany it is illegal to smoke on public transport.
The following morning, accident investigators studied the wreckage while pathologists began identifying the charred bodies from one of Germany's worst bus disaster in 15 years.
Another similar tragedy, which occured in September 1992, had lost 21 lives in what is remembered as the Black Forest crash.
Due to a lack of a passenger's list and as some people had missed the trip,investigators experienced some confusion during the identification process.
Thomas Doepper, chief executive of the excursion destination Prickingshof, said all the passengers had been regular guests.
Prickingshof sells tickets to the elderly for a day in the country with coffee, a snack and the opportunity to try and buy electrical goods, bedding and other products.
Many of the passengers were invalid. From the wreckage rescuers recovered Zimmer frames, which are items used by elderly people as wheeled supports to walk.
Hanover chief of police Uwe Binias said, "The flames spread like wildfire." The driver, who was able to pull over in time, managed to escape along with 12 passengers aged 45 to 80.