BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A Hungarian teacher who pulled some students out of a fiery bus in Italy despite getting burned and losing his own two children in the crash was being hailed as a hero Monday, Jan. 23rd, as Hungary held a national day of mourning for the 16 victims.
Gym teacher Gyorgy Vigh was among the 56 people on the bus carrying mostly students from Budapest’s Szinyei Merse Pal high school home after a skiing trip to France.
The causes of Friday night’s accident near the northern Italian city of Verona — in which the bus crashed into a guardrail before smashing into an overpass support column and bursting into flames — are still unknown.
Vice principal Gabor Jaki described Vigh as “a man of action, a cheerful person … who helps wherever he can.”
“We really need to consider the teacher as a hero, since he literally risked his life to save his students,” Jaki said outside the school.
Vigh suffered burns but survived.
Vigh’s wife, Erika, was also on the skiing trip and described to Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera how she witnessed the death of her own daughter, who was sitting near the front of the bus with her boyfriend.
Laura Vigh was stuck under a seat on the bus when her mother suddenly found herself pushed back 5 meters (16 feet) by a burst of flames.
“A moment later, it was already too late,” Erika Vigh told the paper. “I could not see anything, only the fire.”
The couple’s son, Balazs Vigh, a former ice hockey goalkeeper, also died in the crash.
Benedek Varga, one of the students who suffered only minor injuries, recounted how he was able to escape the burning bus.
“I woke up and I was pinned back by the seat,” he told Hungarian state television. “I waited until others quickly ran out past me. Luckily was I was able to get through the door, which was really already in flames.”
The official identification of the bodies is expected to be completed by Thursday, officials said.
Two adults remained in critical condition in Italy while the rest of the survivors have returned to Budapest. Four injured adults were brought back to the Military Hospital by Hungary’s national ambulance service.
Hospital director Robert Tamas said the patients were in stable condition, afflicted by burns, broken bones and head injuries.
Earlier Monday, Hungary’s national flag was raised and then lowered to half-staff on a towering flagpole outside parliament, in a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, President Janos Ader and other officials.
The Italian ambassador to Hungary, Massimo Rustico, was among those who placed a memorial candle near the high school’s entrance. By Monday, the sidewalk was covered by hundreds of candles, flowers, drawings and photographs in homage to those killed and injured in the crash.
Schools around the country are holding commemorations and speaking with students about the tragic accident as part of the grieving process.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.