The tour bus carrying 48 people from Saxony to Lake Garda in Italy hit the back of a trailer truck at about 7am on Monday in northern Bavaria, sending the bus up in flames and thus killing more than a third of those on board. The remaining 30 who survived were taken to hospital.
Only the charred skeleton of the bus remained.
“What we have seen is more horrible than one could imagine,” said German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt at the scene of the accident.
Attention has now turned to how exactly the accident occurred, but also to the behaviour of fellow drivers amid the emergency situation.
Emergency services made it to the site ten minutes after being alerted, but Bavaria’s interior minister Joachim Herrmann said some drivers on the Autobahn had made it more difficult for the ambulances and firefighters to reach the scene.
Herrmann condemned the “totally irresponsible and shameful behaviour” of these drivers. The “emergency corridor” that drivers are supposed to form to allow emergency workers to pass through was not wide enough, and therefore the larger rescue vehicles lost valuable time in reaching the victims, Herrmann noted.
By the time firefighters reached the accident, the heat of the fire was so great that they could not approach the bus, which Herrmann said was an extremely difficult experience for them.
In the opposite lane of traffic, some rubberneckers had also almost caused further accidents through their actions, he said.
“The discipline of these people is upsetting,” said Bavarian Minister-President Horst Seehofer.
Dobrindt called for raising fines for rubberneckers.
“It is indeed irresponsible and disgraceful when drivers in the opposite lane of traffic drastically reduce their speed to be able to see what has happened,” the Transport Minister told public broadcaster ARD.
“I am also prepared to raise fines if we need more deterrents – that is one side of it. The other is that drivers must be made aware of what they can cause as a result of their actions.”
The debate about rubberneckers was ignited earlier this year after rescue workers in Hesse were forced to run to an accident scene by foot because drivers blocked their way. The emergency workers were trying to reach a construction worker who had fallen five metres from a bridge, but dozens of drivers moved into the emergency corridor created for the rescue vehicles, forcing the medics to carry their equipment as they ran, only to be insulted and harassed by drivers.
Emergency crews photographed the licence plates of 30 of the vehicles involved in the blockage and reported them to police.
Cases like these caused Germany’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, to propose tougher punishments for those who obstruct emergency workers, including up to one year in prison.