A heroic couple, who saved 12 teens from a burning bus, by repeatedly rushing back into the burning vehicle had to endure the despair of watching their own children die.

Teacher Gyorgy Vigh and his wife Erika were among the 54 people, mostly teenagers aged 14-18, who were travelling on a bus headed to Hungary, returning from a ski trip in the French Alps.

The vehicle crashed against guardrail and then rammed into an overpass support column on the highway near the Italian city of Verona in the night of 20 January, catching fire and killing 16. Italian and Hungarian authorities are investigating the causes of the crash, which remain unclear.

The "hero professor" taught physical education to the students of the Szinyei Merse Pal high school in Budapest, which organised the ski trip every year. He and his wife dashed repeatedly into the burning bus pulling students to safety, said Hungarian consul in Milan Judit Timaffy, the Hungarian consul in Milan. Their son and daughter Balazs and Laura however were among the victims.

Erika told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera she tried to rescue her 18-year-old daughter who was sitting next to her boyfriend on the bus, but she was trapped underneath a seat. "I tried to get her out, but I couldn't. A burst of fire hit me," she recalled. "A moment later was too late, you could not see anything, just fire."

Their son Balazs, was a former ice hockey goalkeeper for Ferencvarosi TC in Budapest and the club remembered him in a Facebook post, offering condolences to his family.

The couple suffered from second- and third-degree burns on their faces and backs but their life is not at risk. Their selfless actions have moved people to donate to a GoFundMe page aiming to raise funds for their recovery. The crowdfunding organiser wrote he will be getting in touch with the Hungarian embassy to ensure the donation reaches the family.

Hungarian rescue officials said that the injured and the other passengers returned to Budapest on 22 January, with the exception of two adults, as yet unidentified, who are still hospitalised in Italy in critical conditions.

Italian police commander Girolamo Lacquaniti spoke of another hero on board of a bus, a student. "We found his body near one of the windows: he was still holding the hammer with which he probably broke the glass, allowing others to get out and be safe," he said. Around 13 students are alive because they were able to exit from the window, the police told the media on 21 January.

Hungary bus crash
Gyorgy Vigh pictured with his students and colleagues, sitting on the left side of the picture in a light blue ski jacket. Facebook