Swiss tunnel truck catastrophe described as 'scene of horror'

| 10/26/2001

Two trucks crashed head-on Oct. 24 in Switzerland igniting a massive fire trapping motorists. At least 11 people died and more than 120 people are reported missing.

"It's a scene of horror; a scene of total destruction; a scene of dreadful tragedy," Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger said. He described the fire and indefinite closure inside the 10.6-mile tunnel near Airolo as a catastrophe for the nation.

Included in the death toll is one of the truckdrivers. The surviving driver told news reporters the other truck veered out of control, smashed into his truck and then slammed into the tunnel wall, trapping the driver in his cab a mile from the exit. Thick smoke, fueled by a load of tires on the surviving driver's truck, billowed out of the tunnel.

Intense heat and smoke kept rescuers from reaching the crash site for hours. Many truckers and motorists were able to escape the fury using emergency exits and shelters positioned every 250 yards on the more than 10-mile-long Gotthard Tunnel, which cuts through the Swiss Alps and is a key connection between northern and southern Europe.