Families of Polish crash victims seek answers in Germany

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More than 100 relatives of victims of a Polish tourist bus crash that killed 13 people arrived in Germany Monday, many still unaware if their loved ones were alive or dead.

Investigators from Germany and Poland were working together to uncover the cause of the deadly collision Sunday south of Berlin between a car and the coach bringing 47 passengers and two drivers back from Spain.

Police spokesman Jens Quitschke said only one of the 13 fatalities had been identified, leaving most families in the dark as to the fate of their loved ones.

Around 120 relatives arrived in Germany in the late morning, Quitschke said, a larger group than had initially been announced.

A Polish embassy spokeswoman, Kinga Wustinger, said they arrived on two buses in the town of Koenigs Wusterhausen on Berlin's southeastern rim where police set up an information centre after Sunday's accident.

Soon after, they fanned out to 15 hospitals where victims are being treated and identified.

"They want to find out what condition their family members are in," Wustinger told AFP.

"At this point, there are no questions about who is to blame or who bears responsibility. That may come later."

A car collided with the Polish coach on a rain-soaked motorway, causing the bus to lose control and crash into bridge pillars in the deadliest traffic accident in Germany this year.

The trip was organised by the forest service of the town of Zlocieniec in northwestern Poland, the TVN24 Polish television station reported.

The car, a Mercedes, was driven by a 37-year-old woman who was seriously injured in the accident, according to media reports.

A police spokesman said that the car spun out of control at around 10:00 am (0800 GMT) as it joined the A10 motorway from the A113 not far from Berlin's Schoenefeld airport, south of the capital.

After colliding with the coach, the car ended up in a drainage ditch under the bridge.

Pieces of metal and glass littered the ground beside the grey coach, which had its windshield and windows along one side shattered. Three people were reportedly flung from the bus upon impact and their bodies were recovered from the motorway.

It had been raining most of the night and morning, and investigators were examining whether the crash was weather-related.

Six people injured have left hospital, police said. Thirty-two were still in treatment, with eight in a critical condition.

"Of the 20 people who were slightly injured, six have been released and returned home on a bus supplied by the embassy," said police spokeswoman Bettina Schramm.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk arrived at the scene Sunday evening to speak with survivors, then returned to Warsaw.

Chancellor Angela Merkel offered her condolences during a meeting at the Polish embassy and promised that Germany would do everything it could to save the lives of the injured, a government spokesman said.

"Our thoughts are with the families and the Polish people," Merkel told reporters.

Official buildings in the Brandenburg region surrounding Berlin lowered their flags to half-mast in honour of the victims, the state interior ministry said.

© 2010 AFP

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