SUNDAY TIMES WEB DESK:Some of the children were tied up during the 30-minute ordeal, which saw the bus slamming into a car but was brought to an end by police after one of the children was able to call for help. No one was seriously injured.

“It is a miracle, it could have been carnage. The police were outstanding, blocking the bus and getting the children off,” said Milan prosecutor Francesco Greco.

Photos showed the burnt-out shell of the bus and the car.

Greco added that he could not rule out a terrorist connection in the incident at San Donato Milanese in northern Italy.

The 51 students in year two of secondary school were coming back from a sports outing accompanied by three adults when the driver abruptly changed route, announcing he was taking them all hostage.

“No one is getting out of here alive,” he said, according to several of the students.

A dozen children and two of the adults were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation while the arrested driver, an Italian citizen of Senegalese origin, also needed treatment for burns to his hands.

The Milan police anti-terrorism unit has been charged with investigating the hostage-taking, which lasted a little over 30 minutes.