At least 41 elderly day-trippers on a bus were killed early on Friday when the bus hit a truck head-on and caught fire, in France's worst road crash in more than 30 years.
Two people, including a young boy, died in the truck. A total of eight people were injured.
The bus and the truck collided near a forested bend on a two-lane road cut into a hillside near Puisseguin in the Gironde region, about 35 miles east of Bordeaux, the local prefect's office said in a statement.
Puisseguin Mayor Xavier Sublett said the truck driver lost control of the vehicle and that “the bus driver tried to avoid it, but the truck came and hit it.” Other authorities remained cautious about what caused the crash. An investigation is underway.
Both vehicles caught fire immediately – which authorities said likely contributed to the unusually high death toll – as emergency workers rushed to the scene.
The bus was carrying about 50 pensioners south to the Bearn region from their homes in the village of Petit Palais and surrounding hamlets. The crash occurred just a few minutes after the pensioners had boarded the bus.
The driver of the bus was among the survivors, who were able to exit through the front door he opened, according to a source close to an inquiry that was under way within hours.
A spokesman for the interior ministry said that, as far as he could tell, all the bus passengers were French and from the region.
President Francois Hollande, speaking on a visit to Athens, said he had been "plunged into sadness by the tragedy." Prime Minister Manuel Valls went to the scene.
It was the worst road accident in France since 53 people, mostly children, died in a bus crash in Burgundy in July 1982, according to the independent road safety organization Association Prevention Routiere.
Stricter road regulation and lower speed limits followed, and traffic deaths in France have fallen steeply since. According to official statistics, more than 16,000 people were dying on the roads every year in the early 1970s. In recent years the annual death toll has dropped below 4,000.
(Additional reporting by Claude Cannelas in Bordeaux; Chine Labbe in Paris and Jean-Baptiste Vey in Athens; Writing by Andrew Callus and Michel Rose; Editing by Larry King)