Gotthard tunnel fire disaster : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Tunnel tragedy missing list cut October 27, 2001 Posted: 10:23 AM EDT (1423 GMT)

AIROLO, Switzerland (CNN) -- Swiss authorities are confident that the death toll in the Gotthard tunnel fire disaster will not rise drastically despite 70 people still listed as missing. The number missing has dropped from a high of 200 and officials believe most of those on the list were merely thought to be in the area of the Gotthard tunnel rather than actually inside it when the crash happened.

Eleven people have been confirmed killed in the tunnel fire which broke out after a crash between two lorries. Construction teams are trying to keep the ceiling of the narrow, two-lane tunnel from collapsing and are working their way toward the exact location of the crash.

Police said on Saturday they believe it will be Tuesday before special identification teams can begin the search for possible victims. Airolo police said the dead include 10 men and one woman -- four Germans, two French and one person each from Italy and Switzerland. Three bodies have not been identified.

Fire crews have been able to extinguish the fire with special firefighting machines, but extremely high temperatures in the tunnel did considerable damage to the ceiling.

A 300-meter stretch of the 10-mile tunnel's roof has collapsed and engineers are concerned about additional sections collapsing. Officials said the tunnel could remain closed for weeks, because of the extensive damage. Twenty-three vehicles are still in the tunnel, police said Friday, including several cars and trucks.

The official number of missing has gone up and down, starting at 200 Wednesday evening, dropping to 80 on Thursday morning, rising to 140 Thursday night and falling to 120 by Friday morning. And then down again to 70 on Saturday. The number is based on phone calls from relatives all over Europe of people who might travelled through the tunnel.

During the height of the fire, the temperatures soared above 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,800 degrees Fahrenheit), and it had not cooled enough to allow firefighters to reach many vehicles until nearly 24 hours after the accident in the tunnel. The high temperatures fused cars and trucks into a mass of molten metal. The continued extreme heat and the ceiling collapse combined to make rescue efforts difficult. Poisonous gases killed several people in their cars, and others as they tried to reach safety shelters, said Benno Buehlemann, a fire chief in the town of Goeschenen at the tunnel's northern end.

"Suddenly there was smoke, and I couldn't see anything," said Marco Frischknecht, a truck driver interviewed by Swiss television in his hospital bed. I tried to reverse, but there were so many people I had to give up."

Completed in 1980, the Gotthard tunnel is one of the busiest north-south links in the Alps but has only one lane in each direction.

Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger said "many people were able to escape," thanks to the ventilation system and emergency exits and shelters every 250 meters. Leuenberger, who also is transportation minister in charge of Switzerland's tunnel system, said the security features in the crowded Gotthard averted a much worse death toll.

But the tragedy is prompting many European road experts to call for urgent safety improvements in tunnels across Europe, including adding second tunnels so traffic in each would go in only one direction.

Meanwhile residents living near the scene of another Alps tunnel tragedy have criticised a plan to allow lorries back into the tunnel. France and Italy announced on Friday the Mont Blanc tunnel would be open to cars from December 15 and for trucks early in the new year. But Michel Charlet, mayor of the town of Chamonix on the French side of the 11 km (seven-mile) tunnel, told Reuters news agency the decision was "scandalous."

And Eric Lanoe, head of the French pressure group Reagir which wants to keep trucks out of the Alps, said: "It's incredible that people can decide things like this,.

The Mont Blanc tunnel fire killed 39 people in 1999. It was the longest road tunnel in the world when it was built. Even now, only Norway's Laerdal tunnel is longer. Trucks will only be allowed to travel one-way through the tunnel. Triucks driving in the other direction will have to use the Frejus tunnel, about 90 km (55 miles) south. The tunnel under Europe's highest mountain has been closed since March 1999 when 39 people died after a Belgian truck burst into flames halfway through the tunnel.

-- Rich Marsh (, October 27, 2001


The original notice

9 Die in Alpine Tunnel Crash The Associated Press, Wed 24 Oct 2001

AIROLO, Switzerland (AP) - Two trucks, one of them carrying tires, crashed head on in a main tunnel through the Alps on Wednesday, sparking explosions and blasting heat and smoke through the passage. At least nine people trapped inside were killed, police said.

The crash in the 10-mile Gotthard Tunnel - the world's second-longest road tunnel and a main north-south European axis through the Alps - occurred at 9:45 a.m. about a mile from the southern exit, Ticino state police said. Both trucks caught fire, quickly filling the tunnel with dense black smoke. Explosions could be heard, and heat and smoke prevented rescue workers at the southern end from reaching the fire for several hours, Ticino police spokesman Mario Ritter said. "The heat is too high and there is zero visibility," he said. Parts of the tunnel ceiling had collapsed, he said. At least nine people, including the driver of one of the trucks, were killed, Ritter said. The other driver escaped, he said.

Some motorists were able to flee by foot. Several were treated at an Airolo hospital for minor injuries, Ritter said. Police at the northern end of the tunnel were able to turn many vehicles around and send them back to the northern exit, said Karl Egli, spokesman for Uri cantonal police.

One truck was carrying tires, and the smoke from the burning rubber pouring out of ventilation shafts was feared to be poisonous. Nearby residents were told to stay in their homes with their windows shut.

The tunnel, the main route through the Swiss Alps between Germany and Italy, was until last year the longest road tunnel in the world.

Traffic in the Gotthard Tunnel had increased since 1999 when a fire closed the Mont Blanc Tunnel. The Swiss government said 1.2 million trucks passed through the tunnel last year. A burning truck turned that tunnel, which runs from France to Italy, into a flaming deathtrap, killing 39 people. It has been shut ever since. Repair work began last year, and the tunnel could be reopened later this year.

Two months later, 12 people died in Tauern Tunnel near Salzburg, Austria, after a truck plowed into the back of a car, setting off a chain of explosions. The ensuing blaze and smoke killed people trapped in cars and others trying to escape on foot.

-- Rich Marsh (, October 27, 2001.

The problem is that Gotthard is the the most direct and one of the most frequently chosen routes through the Alps to Italy, particularly liked by truckers because the entrance and exit are at a relatively low altitude, with not too much snow in the winter (3300ft). Obviously, there are other tunnels, such as San Bernardino etc., but access is less comfortable. In less than a month from now, the passes over the mountains which now serve as additional alternatives will be closed due to snow. With Gotthard non-functional, the mess will be enormous. In addition, our freeways are smaller than those in the US, and the roads through the villages cannot handle 40 ft. trailers...

-- Swissrose (, October 27, 2001.

Hey, Swissrose--I'd had no idea you were actually in Switzerland! A happy finding.

I've been appreciating the articles you've posted here. Thank you.

-- Rachel Gibson (, October 27, 2001.

Thanks Rachel, your articles are appreciated as well! I am lucky enough to live on both continents. Currently back home for 8 months.

-- Swissrose (, October 28, 2001.

Oct. 29, 03:44 EDT Suspect in Swiss tunnel fire may have escaped No trace of truck driver who caused accident that killed at least 10 GIULIANO GIULINI/KEYSTONE/AP Smoke billows from an exhaust exit of Switzerland's Gotthard tunnel, Oct. 24, after two trucks collided inside the 15km tunnel. AIROLO, Switzerland (AP) The truck driver who caused a deadly crash and fire in the longest tunnel in the Alps may have escaped the blaze, police said today.

The toll in Wednesday's fire in the Gotthard tunnel fire stands at 10 dead with 28 people missing, said Romano Piazzini, chief of the Ticino canton police.

"There are probably no further bodies in the tunnel," he said.

Piazzini said no trace has been found of the truck driver believed to have caused the crash, and that he may have fled.

Previously police had said the driver couldn't have survived because he was pinned in his cab between the tunnel wall and another truck as a fire with temperatures reaching 2,200 degrees raged. "We found almost nothing in the cab," said Piazzini.

He said police would have to wait for forensic experts to search for DNA traces of the driver, identified only as a Turkish citizen driving a Belgian-registered truck.

Police said the driver may have reached safety and failed to report to authorities, perhaps because he was in shock.

Piazzini said investigators had accounted for all 23 vehicles remaining in the tunnel, many of them only charred, melted frames.

The 10 bodies recovered have each been connected to their vehicles, he said. The remaining vehicles were driven by people who reached safety on foot through emergency exits.

More than 100 people were listed as missing by family and friends by the end of last week, but the number dropped to 23 by Monday morning and then rose to 28 as new reports came in, said police.

Officials have stressed it is unlikely that all those reported missing were in the tunnel at the time of the accident. Many drivers turned their cars around and escaped.

Workers have been installing metal braces to shore up the tunnel's walls and ceiling to make it safe for salvage workers and investigators.

The 10.6-mile Gotthard is the world's second-longest highway tunnel and links Germany and Italy. It is expected to be closed for up to six months.

"We would be delighted if the tunnel can be reopened by Easter," said Peter Wehr, an official of the Gotthard tunnel management. pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_PrintFriendly&c=Article&cid=1004353485 428

-- Martin Thompson (, October 29, 2001.

A bit suspicious. I guess I am just a bit paranoid.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 29, 2001.

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