A sleek, double-decker German tour bus crashed through a guardrail on a rain-swept French highway, plunged down an embankment and flipped onto its roof early Saturday, killing at least 28 of the 74 people on board.

Ambulances and helicopters rushed the injured to hospitals.

French President Jacques Chirac (searchissued a statement offering condolences to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (search).

It was the second major deadly crash this month involving a German tour bus. On May 8, a bus collided with train in the town of Siofok, Hungary, killing the German bus driver and 32 German tourists.

At least six of the injured were in serious condition Saturday, said Col. Serge Delaigue, the regional director of fire rescue services. The bus carried 72 passengers and two drivers.

One driver was confirmed dead. Nearly everyone on board was believed to be German, with some passengers having won the trip as a contest prize. The bus had taken on passengers in Cologne and Hanover.

"It was really a catastrophic scene," said police Lt. Antoine Bompart said, adding that some passengers were trapped in the wreckage. "There were people crying and screaming everywhere."

Bompart said some witnesses told authorities the driver braked to avoid a vehicle in front of him, and then lost control of the double-decker. The police lieutenant added it appeared the bus was traveling about 68 mph. The speed limit for such a large vehicle in the rain is 56 mph.

The accident happened north of the city of Lyon (search) in Dardilly, about 230 miles southeast of Paris, at about 5 a.m.

Witnesses and officials said the bus hit a guardrail, barreled down a grassy embankment and hit an electrical pole before flipping onto its roof.

Its huge undercarriage and axles were twisted and bent by the force of the impact.

"We had to cut through the bus to remove the victims," Delaigue said on the French LCI television station.

The bus had been traveling all night, and regulations require that two drivers take turns at the wheel. The bus had toured throughout Germany and was headed toward Spain.

The pre-dawn crash comes during the French government's latest campaign to improve safety on its oft-criticized highways.

It was bound to raise questions about the risks posed by the thousands of tour buses that crisscross France and other European countries every day, often on overnight trips.

Tiger-Reisen, the bus owner, is based in a single-family home in the quiet Hanover suburb of Wunstorf. The windows were shuttered Saturday afternoon and no one answered the doorbell or phone calls.

One witness, Patrick Sirolli, told LCI the bus was speeding down the highway shortly before it flew out of control.

"The bus was going fast. I said to myself, 'That's how you have accidents,"' he said.

Highway traffic was halted temporarily as ambulances, rescue workers and firefighters rushed to the scene.