EIGHTEEN people have been confirmed dead after a bus carrying German senior citizens crashed on a highway in Bavaria before bursting into flames.

Another 30 people were injured in the tragedy, with two of them in a life-threatening condition in hospital.

The bus carrying the group caught fire after crashing into a truck on the A9 highway in southern Germany yesterday morning.

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Police said members of the group were aged between 41 and 81 and mostly from Saxony in eastern Germany.

Two drivers and 46 passengers were on the bus.

The accident took place at around 7am local time when the bus collided with the truck at the back of a traffic jam near Muenchberg in Bavaria.

The A9, the main thoroughfare from Berlin to Munich, was closed for hours.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and we wish all those who were injured a speedy recovery.”

At the crash site, Transport minister Alexander Dobrindt said it was not immediately clear what caused the initial traffic jam, but the bus seemed to have caught fire immediately. “Two people are still in life-threatening condition,” he said.

The remains of 11 bodies were recovered from the bus, and forensic experts were still poring through the charred wreckage to identify and remove others. It was not known if the driver was among the dead.

Some 200 emergency crew members attended the scene, and five helicopters flew the injured to nearby hospitals.

Simple wooden coffins were wheeled in for the remains recovered from the wreckage of the bus.

Firefighters arrived quickly on the scene, but the fire was so fierce they could not get near the burning vehicle to rescue those trapped inside.

“All they could do was extinguish the fire,” added Dobrindt.

“The heat was so strong that nothing that’s inflammable is left from the bus – only the steel frame.”

Recovery work was proving difficult due to the damage to the bus.

The A9 highway, the main thoroughfare from Berlin to Munich, remained closed on both sides for hours. Police tweeted later that the A9 road leading south would be shut down for the entire day.