SOFIA, Bulgaria – 45 people died in a bus crash on the highway while it was returning from Istanbul, on Tuesday – officials reported.

Reportedly, the bus with a North Macedonian number plate first caught fire and then crashed while it was on its way back to Skopje, North Macedonian.

When the bus caught fire, some travelers tried to jump off through windows to escape the flames. As per the news outlets, the victims included a bus driver and several youngsters.

Bulgarian Interior Ministry, Boyko Rashkov, visited the area where the incident took place and told the reporters, “The picture is horrifying,” and added that “the victims’ bodies had turned to ash. I haven’t seen anything like this before.”

The fire safety dept head, Nikolai Nikolov reported that 52 passengers were traveling in that bus when the crash happened at 2:00 am on the  Struma Motorway, located close to the village of Bosnek, Western Bulgaria.

While adding to the news, Bujar Osmani, foreign minister of North Macedonia, said, the vehicle had three more passengers on its way back from the Istanbul trip, which unfortunately increased the death rate.

Later it was revealed that seven people survived the crash and had lacerations and burns, including a teenager. They were taken to the burn dept of Pirogov Hospital in Sofia, Maya Argirova.

Zoran Zaev, Prime Minister of North Macedonia, visited the facility on Tuesday.

“It is a terrible tragedy because many of them are children,” said Zoran Zaev after talking to victims. One victim managed to break one of the bus windows to help some passengers get out of the bus, but, “Unfortunately, the others were less fortunate,” he added.

Recently, the hospital released a statement saying the injured are doing fine and will soon be shifted to Skopje once they fully recover.

Bulgaria Prime Minister Stefan Yanev also visited the place of the incident, “This news shook us,” Yanev told the news reporters. His “administration was working swiftly to investigate what had happened.”

On Tuesday, Bulgaria’s foreign affairs minister Svetlan Stoev and his counterpart, North Macedonian’s minister Bujar Osmani, are scheduled to meet at Pirogov Hospital – according to a recent news release.

Svetlan Stoev, took to Twitter to offer his condolences and support to the victims as he said Bulgaria would do its best to find out the underlying cause of the “Tragedy.”

In 2018, a similar bus crash happened, which killed 16 people and injured 26 while it was near Sofia.