A bus carrying pilgrims plunged off a motorway flyover in southern Italy, killing at least 38 people in one of the worst such accidents in Europe in recent years.
Local prosecutors yesterday launched an investigation into possible manslaughter over Sunday evening’s accident close to the town of Avellino near Naples, according to Italian media reports.
Rescuers were still battling yesterday to extract people from the wreckage.
The vehicle, carrying about 50 people, had been traveling at high speed when it crashed on a busy dual highway between Naples and Bari in an area Italian media described as an accident black spot.
It rammed several cars before plunging through a crash barrier and down a steep slope, before coming to a stop on its side off the road about 50km from Naples.
The driver was among the dead and at least a dozen people were injured, including children. There were reports that some people in the dozen or so cars caught up in the chaos had also been hurt.
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, on a visit to Athens, said it was a “very sad time” for Italy and observed a minute’s silence in honor of the victims before addressing a conference in the Greek capital.
Italian news agency ANSA said the manslaughter probe would look into the possible role of the driver in the accident, as well as the state of the bus and the crash barrier on the highway.
ANSA said the driver’s body would be examined for the possible presence of alcohol or drugs, while traffic police have seized the vehicle documents from the bus operator Mondotravel.
A photographer at the scene described rescue workers searching the crash site early yesterday under arc-lights set up around the wreckage of the bus.
“The situation is critical. Our men are working to save as many lives as possible,” fire chief Pellegrino Iandolo told Sky TG24.
Rescue workers said they had pulled 33 bodies from the wreckage and found three more of people thrown from the vehicle as it plunged 30m down a slope.
Another two died in hospital of their injuries.
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.
They said about a dozen wrecked cars littered the highway.
“Looking down from the overpass, the scene of the tragedy: some 30 bodies covered by white sheets, lined up along the roadside,” ANSA’s Cesare Abbate said.
From time to time, rescue workers called for “a moment of silence” to listen for signs of life from the wreckage, he said.
One survivor, quoted by his uncle who met him in hospital, reported hearing a tire exploding and said that the driver had been unable to control the vehicle.
The 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.