Chain-reaction crash kills five, injures 60 on Pennsylvania Turnpike

(Reuters) – A chain-reaction crash involving a tour bus, three tractor-trailers and a passenger car killed five people and injured about 60 others on the Pennsylvania Turnpike early on Sunday, state police said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it dispatched a crash investigation team to Mount Pleasant Township, about 40 miles (64 km) southeast of Pittsburgh, to investigate the cause of the predawn pileup.

The accident forced the closure of an 86-mile (138-km) stretch of the turnpike, a major east-west highway across the state, in both directions between the exits for New Stanton and Breezewood.

The tour bus, en route from Rockaway, New Jersey, to Cincinnati, was headed downhill when it swerved into an embankment at a bend in the road and rolled over on its side, state police spokesman Stephen Limani told a news conference hours later.

Two tractor-trailers then plowed into the bus and a third big rig slammed into the other trucks in a chain reaction that also involved a car, Limani said.

Five people from the entangled vehicles were killed and about 60 others were injured, two of them described as critically hurt, although all of those taken to hospitals were expected to survive, according to Limani.

Emergency personnel also faced a language barrier as some of the bus passengers spoke only Japanese, while others spoke only Spanish, Limani said. The injured ranged in age from 7-years-old to some believed to be their 60s, he said.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation. But Limani said some motorists reported deteriorating weather conditions at the time of the accident in an area that lies in the snowbelt of western Pennsylvania.

“There was some precipitation that was coming down, and I’m sure that could have played a factor,” he told reporters. A state transportation official told reporters that road crews had been out overnight applying salt and ash to icy spots on the highway.

The bus was operated by a company called Z&D Tours, and the three tractor-trailers were all package shipment trucks, Limani said. Photos from the scene showed that one was a FedEx truck.

The turnpike was not expected to reopen before Sunday evening, adding to post-holiday traffic woes in the region.

Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Steve Gorman in Culver City, California; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney

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