UPDATE: 6:38 a.m. EDT -- Puisseguin Mayor Xavier Sublett told a local radio channel, cited by the Telegraph, that the driver of the truck is believed to have lost control of the vehicle. The driver "tried to avoid it, but the truck came and hit it, and he couldn't do anything except activate the mechanism to open the doors to allow some people to get out," Sublett said.
François Decauze, the organizer of the trip, said, according to the Local, a French news network: "We are all in shock. It’s terrible. We are getting information as it arrives. The phone has not stopped ringing. We are in shock. We don’t know what to do. Our friends were on board the bus.”
At least 42 people died in southwestern France on Friday after a deadly crash between a bus carrying elderly tourists and a truck, local police officials said, according to reports. The accident is reportedly the worst road tragedy in the country in 33 years.
The collision took place at about 7:30 a.m., local time, (1:30 a.m. EDT) when the vehicles were traveling along a road in Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion, about 40 miles east of Bordeaux city. The tourists, who belonged to pensioners’ social club from Petit-Palais-et-Cornemps and surrounding villages, were on a day trip to another town and had just begun their journey when the crash occurred. The bus was carrying 49 passengers and a driver.
Xavier Sublett, the mayor of Puisseguin, told a local news network, cited by the Independent, that eight people were able to escape after the bus driver managed to open the door. Helicopters were reportedly evacuating severely burnt victims. A crisis center for relatives of the victims has also been set up at a local school.
French authorities have opened a preliminary investigation into the accident, but the circumstances remain unclear.
Nearly 60 firefighters were at the site of the crash, where a “gigantic blaze” was being brought under control, the Guardian reported, citing an interior ministry spokesman.
French President François Hollande, who is on a visit to Greece, called it “a terrible accident in France that caused the death of forty people. ... The French government is fully mobilized on this terrible tragedy,” the Guardian reported.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Transport Minister Alain Vidalies were reportedly scheduled to arrive at the site of the crash by mid-morning.
Both the vehicles -- the truck, which was transporting wood, and the bus -- erupted into flames on impact. A butcher in the village said, according to the Local, a French news network, that the bus skidded before it went round a turn and crashed into the truck.
A resident in Petit-Palais also said, according to the Local: "We don't know what has happened or who was involved yet. My uncle is a member of the senior citizens club but I'm trying to find out whether or not he was on the bus."
In 1982, a bus crash in the east-central French region of Burgundy killed 53 people, including 44 children.