14 passengers killed in US as bus flips, splits in half
Driver claims he lost control while swerving to avoid tractor trailer
Fourteen people died and many more were left maimed yesterday when a bus returning from a casino flipped on to its side on a major highway in New York and was sliced in half by the support pole for a large sign, authorities said.
Many of the passengers on the bus were residents of Manhattan's Chinatown. They ranged in age from 20 to 50, officials said.
The driver, who survived, told police he lost control while trying to evade a swerving tractor trailer. Police began a hunt for the truck, which did not stop after the crash, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. It was unclear whether the two vehicles had made contact.
The bus was headed to Manhattan's Chinatown neighbourhood, loaded with passengers returning from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.
According to the driver, the accident was triggered by a close encounter with a tractor trailer. The bus was in one lane and the truck was in the lane to its left.
"The truck either starts to swerve or perhaps even hits the bus," Mr Kelly said. He added that both vehicles were moving at "a significant rate of speed".
As the bus took evasive action, it hit a guard rail, scraped along it for 300ft, toppled and crashed into the support post for a highway sign, indicating an exit.
The pole entered through the front window, then sheared the bus from front to back along the window line, cutting like a knife through the seating area and peeling the roof off all the way to the back tyres.
Police and fire officials say the bus was carrying at least 31 passengers. A majority were hurled to the front of the bus by the sudden impact with the pole.Doctors were still working to save the lives of gravely injured passengers.
In addition to the fatalities, seven other passengers were critically hurt. As many as 20 were treated in hospital.
Survivors described a scene of horror and severed limbs.
Chung Ninh, 59, had been asleep in his seat, then suddenly found himself hanging upside down from his seat belt, surrounded by the dead and screaming. One man bled from a severed arm.
He said when he tried to help one bloodied woman, the driver told him to stop, because she was dead. "Forget this one. Help another one," he said.
Mr Ninh said he and other passengers climbed out through a skylight.
Limo driver Homer Martinez, 56, of Danbury, Connecticut, came upon the scene just moments after the wreck and saw other drivers sprinting from their cars to assist the injured. He said they were horrified by what they found.
"People were saying, 'Oh my God, oh my God!' holding their hands on their heads," Mr Martinez said. "I saw people telling other people not to go there, saying, 'You don't want to see this'."
Firefighters and medics were on the scene quickly, running to the vehicle with bags and stretchers, he said.
"I see a lot of accidents. I've even seen accidents happen. But I've never seen anything like this," said Mr Martinez.
The southbound lanes of the road were still closed yesterday afternoon. The wreck also closed the northbound side of the highway for a time, but those lanes were moving again by mid-morning.
Mr Kelly said investigators had been given some numbers from the licence plate of the tractor trailer, but they hadn't identified or located a vehicle yet.
After the crash, firefighters cut through the bus roof to reach a handful of passengers pinned in the wreckage. Mr Kilduff called it "a very difficult operation."
Fifteen people were treated at Jacobi Medical Centre in the Bronx. Hospital spokeswoman Barbara DeIorio said some of the injuries were serious, but she had no immediate information on how many were gravely hurt.
Another five were taken to St Barnabas Hospital, where two were on life-support, breathing with the assistance of machines.
"We've had skull fractures, rib fractures, internal bleeding, we've had lung contusions," said Dr Ernest Patti, senior attending physician at St Barnabas.
The bus driver was "awake and conscious," Dr Patti said.
The bus was one of scores that travel daily between Manhattan's Chinatown and Mohegan Sun casinos in north-eastern Connecticut.
A fifth of the local casino business comes from Asian spending and caters to Chinese-American gamblers. Its website has a Chinese-language section, offering gaming and bus promotions.