ROME – A tour bus filled with Italians returning home after an excursion plunged off a highway into a ravine in southern Italy on Sunday night after it had smashed into several cars that were slowed by heavy traffic, killing at least 37 people, said police and rescuers.
Flashing signs near Avellino, outside Naples, had warned of slowed traffic ahead along a stretch of the A116 autostrada, a major highway crossing southern Italy, before the crash occurred, said highway police and officials, speaking on state radio early today. They said the bus driver, for reasons not yet determined, appeared to have lost control of his vehicle.
Hours after the crash, firefighters said that they had extracted 37 bodies – most of the dead were found inside the mangled bus, which lay on its side, while a few of the victims were pulled out from underneath the wreckage, state radio and the Italian news agency ANSA reported.
The radio report said 11 people were hospitalized with injuries, two of them in very critical condition. It was not immediately known whether there were other survivors or any missing.
Rescuers wielding electric saws cut through the twisted metal to better probe the interior of the bus, stopping occasionally in silence to listen for any cries for help, even as the bodies were put into coffins to be taken to a morgue.
Reports said as many as 49 people had been aboard the bus when it ripped through a guardrail after slamming into several cars, then plunged 100 feet off the highway and into a ravine near a wooded area. In its plunge, the bus tore away whole sections of concrete barriers as well as guardrail. The concrete lay in large chunks in a clearing in a wooded area where the bus landed.
State radio quoted Avellino police as saying the bus driver was among the dead.
A state radio reporter said authorities told him that the bus had been bringing the passengers home to small towns near Naples after an outing to a thermal spa area near Benevento, a town not far from Avellino.