A bus carrying Polish Catholic pilgrims from Our Lady of la Salette shrine in the French Alps, missed a switchback on the mountain road it was taking and plummeted over the edge. The bus crashed into a river bank below and burst into flames, killing 26 people, authorities said.
Out of the 50 pilgrims on the bus, fourteen were seriously injured and twenty six died. The accident occurred on a part of the road that is notorious for killing motorists.
The tragedy brought Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, to Grenoble, France to survey the damage and comfort the injured on Sunday evening. Sarkozy said he was "shattered by the scale of the tragedy" and pledged to follow "very closely" the investigation into the causes of the accident.
According to local residents, the bus missed a 90-degree bend in the road near the village of Vizille as it returned from the shrine of Notre-Dame de la Salette. The bus plowed through a barrier and plunged 65 feet onto the banks of La Romanche River, catching fire on impact, firefighters said.
"When the bus was burning, there were injured people inside," said Philippe Baret, owner of the field where the bus landed. "I saw at least six of them who were stuck inside the bus and burned to death before my very eyes." Mr. Baret was able to help pull other survivors to safety before the bus was consumed in flames.
Those on board the touring bus were between 40-60 years old and had left Poland on July 10 for a two-week visit to famous sanctuaries in France, Spain, and Portugal, including shrines in Lourdes, France, and Fatima, Portugal, according Marcin Szklarski, president of Orlando Travel, the agency that organized the pilgrimage. Among the passengers were three priests, of which only one is known to have survived.