Up to 18 people were feared dead after a coach carrying pensioners burst into flames following a collision with a lorry in southern Germany on Monday, police said.
There was “only a glimmer of hope” that some of them would be found alive outside the bus, police spokesman Juergen Stadter told news channel NTV, which showed images of the vehicle’s charred skeleton in the German state of Bavaria.
“Maybe someone ran away in shock,” he said, adding that 18 people were still missing, raising the figure earlier given by police.
Another police spokeswoman, Anne Hoefer, told AFP that the passengers were “old people” and that some may not have made it out of the bus.
Some of the 30 passengers pulled out of the burning bus were seriously hurt, added Stadter.
The bus carrying 46 passengers and two drivers rammed into the trailer in a traffic jam on the motorway A9 close to the town of Stammbach.
An emergency team, including firefighters and rescue workers, were at the scene, while traffic on the motorway was halted in both directions.
Those hurt were being flown by rescue helicopters to hospitals, many with life-threatening injuries.
According to the Bild newspaper, the coach was traveling from the eastern region of Lausitz and heading for Nuremberg.
Local Oberfranken police tweeted that a phone number had been activated to provide family members with information.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced “great dismay” over the crash.
“Our thoughts go to the victims and their family members, as well as to the injured. We hope that those who have been rescued will recover from their injuries,” said her spokesman Steffen Seibert.