Italy coach crash: At least 38 dead near Avellino

The BBC's Alan Johnston says the guard-rail failed to keep the coach on the road

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A coach has plunged off a flyover in southern Italy leaving at least 38 people dead in the country's worst road accident for decades.

The coach hit several vehicles before smashing through a barrier and toppling down a steep slope near the town of Avellino, in the Campania region.

At least 10 people were injured, some of them seriously.

The coach was taking about 50 people, including children, back to Naples following a pilgrimage.

The cause of the accident is not yet known. Some reports say the vehicle was travelling at speed.

At the scene

What really strikes you here at the scene of the crash is the great height that the bus fell. Standing where it came crashing down through the trees, you have to crane your neck to look up at edge of the road. It stands 30m above you against the blue of the sky.

Most of the wreck of the bus was taken away soon after daybreak. But smaller parts of it are still lying around - including a few seats. And in among the debris there were some personal items: a pair of women's silver flip flops, and what looked like a child's toy.

They are just the sort of things that you might expect families to have with them on an excursion like this - what was supposed to be a chance to get away to the countryside on a summer weekend.

The head of the local fire brigade division, Alessio Barbarulo, said barriers on bridges would normally prevent such accidents but "evidently it seems the impact was so strong that even the barrier gave way".

A survivor said the driver, who was among the dead, appeared to have lost control of the bus, possibly after a tyre punctured.

Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said the vehicle had passed its annual inspection in March, and there was no indication of technical problems.

Tests are being carried out on the driver's body as part of the investigation into what caused the accident.

TV footage showed smashed vehicles on the flyover and shrouded bodies lined up by the side of a road.

The Naples-Bari motorway was closed to traffic because of the accident.

The bus dropped 30m (98ft), coming to rest in heavy undergrowth after smashing through the guard-rail.

The final number of victims remains unclear, with local officials saying 38 died while the transport ministry in Rome spoke of 39.

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The injured were taken to hospitals in Avellino, Salerno and Nola, Ansa news agency said.

They include the occupants of the six cars caught up in the collision. Six of those hurt are children.

Those on board had been visiting the town of Telese Terme, known for its hot springs, and the nearby birthplace of Padre Pio, one of Italy's most popular saints.

On a visit to Greece, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said the accident was "a huge tragedy".

Exactly 10 years ago, another accident on the same stretch of motorway claimed six lives and injured 11 other people.

Crane removes coach wreckage The coach plunged 30m (98ft) from a flyover
Section of concrete rail guard which fell from the flyover Part of the concrete safety rail, which failed to stop the coach leaving the road, was brought down to the ground
Flip flop among the wreckage Victims' personal effects were scattered among the wreckage in the ravine
Relatives and friends of victims near the morgue to which bodies were taken Relatives gathered at a local school which has been turned into a temporary mortuary
Crucifix and flowers at scene of crash The passengers had been visiting the birthplace of Padre Pio and the hot springs at Telese Terme

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