A burst tyre may have caused Sunday night’s horrific coach crash in southern Italy that killed at least 38 people after the vehicle plunged 30 metres from a viaduct, it has emerged.
The coach was carrying 48 holiday makers from Naples, including children, back from a visit to an early home of the popular saint Padre Pio, when the driver lost control at approximately 8.30 pm local time, near the town of Avellino in the hills outside Naples.
The coach smashed into the car in front causing a five-vehicle pile up on a bridge section of the A16 motorway before bursting through the crash barrier and falling into the escarpment.
Nine people in the five cars were injured. But their vehicles remained on the road. Ten other travellers in the coach were injured, all critically, one of whom is since thought to have died. Three young children were killed and five others injured, two of whom were, according to La Stampa, in a serious condition.
Rescue crews worked overnight to extract survivors and victims from the wreckage. A local school was converted into a makeshift morgue while the bodies are being identified.
The wounded were ferried to several different hospitals in the area, according to Alessio Barbarulo, commander of Avellino’s fire brigade.
Corriere della Sera reported this morning that so far 36 bodies had been recovered; 33 of the dead were found in the wrecked coach, and three bodies were found underneath the vehicle.
Italian Premier Enrico Letta cancelled a planned visit to the Acropolis in Athens. “It is a very sad day for Italy, what happened last night. There are no words for it,” he told reporters. “It is a huge tragedy.”
Investigators say faulty braking may have contributed to the tragedy; a statement from the motorway operator Autostrade per l'Italia said the coach appeared to have been travelling fast in the vicinity of slower-moving traffic.
But a burst tyre was today seen as the most likely cause, after survivors spoke of such an incident in the seconds before the accident.
Vincenzo Rusciano, the uncle of one of the children rushed to hospital in Avellino, said: “My niece told me that a tyre on the left-had side of the bus exploded. The driver tried to take control any way he could, but he failed and the bus swerved and finished down in the ravine.”
Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter probe into the crash. Mr Barbarulo said: “You would think that the barriers on the viaducts and bridges should prevent this type of accident but evidently it seems the impact was so strong that even the barrier gave way.”
It is not known whether the coach passengers were wearing seat belts – or if the vehicle had belts in working order.