Twelve dead in Polish tourist bus crash in Germany

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A Polish tourist bus returning from Spain careered into a bridge on a rain-soaked German motorway Sunday, killing 12 people and leaving seven in critical condition.

"A car collided with a Polish tourist coach... (which) then lost control and crashed with full force into the bridge pillar," fire brigade spokesman Arne Feuring told news channel N24 at the scene.

"This was a very large operation for us.... In total there were more than 300 members of the emergency services in action at the scene."

One of those in a critical condition was the driver of the car, a Mercedes, that collided with the bus. Polish media reports said the driver was a 37-year-old woman. Her nationality was not known.

Seven people were fighting for their lives after being airlifted by helicopter to nearby hospitals. They were "definitely" in a critical condition, a spokesman for the fire brigade told AFP.

The driver of the coach was hurt, but his injuries were not reported to be life-threatening. Unconfirmed news reports said the injured included two children.

A police spokesman said that the car spun out of control at around 10:45 am (0845 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, at right angles to the road.

It had been raining most of the night and morning and the road was slippery, and investigators have opened an inquiry into the cause of the crash, examining if was weather-related, a police spokesman said.

Police would also speak to eyewitnesses of the crash, he added.

The grey bus, operated by coach company Pol-Bus, had 46 people on board, according to Polish media reports.

Police spokesman Jens Quitschke said the coach was on its way back to Poland from Spain and that it was carrying people of all ages, not only young people as reported in German media.

Television pictures showed that part of the front windscreen of the coach was smashed, while the injured were being carried on stretchers to tents specially set up at the scene. Those physically unhurt in the accident were being treated for shock.

Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk was to travel to the scene of the tragedy, government spokesman Pawel Gras said in Warsaw. Health Minister Ewa Kopacz would accompany him.

The speaker of the European parliament, Poland's Jerzy Buzek, was "deeply saddened and shocked by the tragic deaths," Polish news agency PAP quoted him as saying.

Germany's busy A10 motorway was expected to remain closed for several more hours as emergency services, assisted by half a dozen helicopters, dealt with the injured, cleared away the debris and began their investigation.

Prosecutors in Szczecin in northwest Poland also said that they would launch their own investigation.

"There hasn't been an accident like this with so many people involved in Brandenburg (state) for a long time," the Bild daily quoted Peter Salender, a spokesman for area police as saying.

© 2010 AFP

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