The men were all in a Ford Orion which overturned and split in two after crashing into a tree in Crumpsall, Greater Manchester, at about 12.30am. Witnesses described scenes of carnage in the road.
Chief Superintendent Peter Harris, head of the investigation into the incident, said it was "probably the worst accident most of us have ever seen". Two police officers who were first at the crash site were "badly shaken" and required counselling afterwards, he said.
The Orion had been reported stolen earlier in the evening from the Salford area. It was spotted in Crumpsall by police in a Vauxhall Astra van on a routine night patrol, which followed it for a short distance before signalling for the driver to stop.
The car first slowed down as if to pull over, but then executed a rapid U-turn and sped off in the opposite direction, jumping two set of red lights, police said. The van continued the pursuit, and came across the crash scene further along the road, by a bus shelter.
An inquiry was launched yesterday by the police accident investigation unit and an independent police inspector. However, Chief Supt Harris said the officers had slowed down at each set of traffic lights during the chase and were 150 yards behind when the car hit the tree.
He added: "At this stage there is no suggestion that the officers involved were in any way to blame for the incident."
Under guidelines issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers in 1989 following a spate of serious accidents involving police vehicles, officers involved in pursuits are required to drive within safe limits and to regard public safety as paramount.
The identities of the five men, believed to be in their late teens to early twenties, were withheld yesterday while their families were contacted.
Police said the driver of the Orion had apparently lost control and collided with the tree, possibly while trying to avoid a Toyota van that pulled out from a side street moments beforehand. They appealed for the driver of the dark-coloured van to contact them.
Witnesses said the Orion appeared to have been crushed in the accident. Derek Morgan, a care assistant at a nearby residential home, said: "There were two bodies that had been thrown clear of the car, one on the road and one lying on the pavement.
"The car was totally mangled. There was blood everywhere, it was just horrific."
Andrew Lord, who saw the wreckage while on his way home from a wedding, said the car was on its roof in the road.
Police described the crash as "a tragedy" and extended their sympathies to the families of the dead men.Reuse content