Six holidaymakers heading for a morning flight at Manchester airport and their driver were killed yesterday when their hotel shuttle bus collided with another vehicle on the motorway and smashed into the central reservation.
After bumping along the barrier, the Leyland Daf bus smashed into a lamp-post, which sliced off the nearside of the vehicle. Six passengers were hurled on to the westbound carriageway of the M56 yards from the junction to the airport and died instantly. The driver was found dead inside the bus.
A rescue operation involving 60 emergency personnel was quickly under way after an alert was issued by a police patrol car in a roadside bay. A passing medic helped with first aid at the scene, while two critically injured passengers were taken to Wythenshawe Hospital. Six others were treated in other Manchester hospitals, and three were released during the day.
Ian Bailey, Assistant Divisional Fire Officer for Greater Manchester, said: "When we arrived at the scene there were seven people dead. There was one dead person trapped in the wreckage and six thrown from the minibus. Two were seriously injured. This was the worst scene I have ever had to attend in 17 years in the fire service. It is one of the most harrowing scenes I have ever come across and I find it remarkable there were survivors.
"There were 20 firefighters in attendance very quickly. A passer-by went to help at the scene. If it hadn't been for the speed at which the emergency services arrived and without their actions we could have been looking at 11 fatalities."
The crash caused serious disruption to rush-hour traffic. Both carriageways of the motorway were blocked for several hours and flights from the airport were delayed by up to an hour.
The westbound carriageway was reopened at about 2pm after police removed four damaged vehicles, including a Toyota Carina and a Vauxhall Vectra that crashed into the debris, and oversaw temporary repairs to the motorway.
The 14 passengers on the bus came from Herefordshire, Fife, Belfast, Leeds and Tyne and Wear, and had spent the night at the Britannia Country House Hotel in Didsbury, Manchester, to catch the early-morning flights.
At 5.40am, as the Leyland Daf bus, which had been towing a luggage trailer, neared the airport, it collided with a Ford Mondeo in the middle lane.
Paddy O'Leary, 39, general manager of the Britannia Country House Hotel, said: "The minibus left at 5.30 in the morning on a scheduled shuttle service carrying six groups of people to Manchester airport. The driver was male and there was possibly a family from Scotland and a family from Northern Ireland included. The hotel group are carrying out their own internal investigation and the Health and Safety Executive are involved.
"All our staff are very shocked by this awful event and we have counsellors coming to console employees. We are working very closely with Greater Manchester Police and I am numb from what has happened. This is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts are with family and friends."
Police and the Health and Safety Executive were last night continuing an investigation into the crash. Officers at the scene hinted that some passengers might not have been wearing seatbelts.
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