AT LEAST 36 people were killed and several more injured after a coach carrying pilgrims plunged off a motorway flyover in southern Italy, rescue services said on Monday.
Rescue workers said that they had pulled 33 bodies from the wreckage after Sunday evening’s crash near the town of Avellino in the Campania region
They found the bodies of another three people underneath the coach. They had been thrown from the vehicle as it plunged 30 meters down a slope.
Another 11 people were injured, they added.
Photographers at the scene described how fire crews raced to find any remaining survivors, as the victims were laid out under white sheets along the roadside.
“Looking down from the overpass, the scene of the tragedy: some 30 bodies covered by white sheets, lined up along the roadside,” said Cesare Abbate of Italy’s ANSA news agency, before the toll was revised upwards.
The coach passengers had been returning to Naples following a pilgrimage to Pietrelcina, the birthplace of Saint Pio, an Italian priest canonized in 2002 who is highly venerated in southern Italy.
It was not yet clear how many people were on the coach, but local media reported that many of the passengers were children.
The emergency services had rushed three badly injured children, four women and two men to hospitals in Avellino and nearby Naples, media reports said.
The coach had hit several cars before plunging off the flyover and some passengers had been flung from the vehicle as it fell, rescue services said.
It had been traveling at high speed when it crashed on the busy dual carriageway.
There were reports too of injuries among passengers of the seven or eight badly damaged cars scattered near the safety rail bust open by the coach as it fell.
An Agence France-Presse photographer at the scene described rescue workers searching the crash site early Monday under arc lights set up around the coach, which lay on its side in an inaccessible area at the bottom of the slope.
From time to time, rescue workers called for “a moment of silence” to listen for signs of life from the wreckage, he said.
Police would not put a definitive number on those killed in the accident.
“Our priority now is to free the wounded,” a spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
“The situation is critical,” head fireman Pellegrino Iandolo told SKY TG24 television. “Our men are working to save as many lives as possible.”
The Naples-Bari highway had been closed to traffic, the police said.
Among those killed was the driver of the coach.
Witnesses to the crash said it looked as if the coach might have had brake problems.
Others said it was not clear whether the driver may have fallen asleep at the wheel or whether the coach could have burst a tire on the road. AFP