POTTSVILLE, Pa. (AP) — The six people killed during an 80-vehicle pileup on a Pennsylvania interstate during a snow squall earlier this week included four men and two women, authorities said.
Schuylkill County Deputy Coroner Albert Barnes said Friday that the victims of Monday’s crash on Interstate 81 were between 40 to 70 years old and were burned beyond recognition, the (Pottsville) Republican-Herald reported.
“All of the decedents were found in the group of vehicles that were on fire,” Barnes said.
Two were found in a box truck that was one of the first vehicles involved in the crash. They are believed to be from Montgomery County in Pennsylvania. Also killed was a man in a tractor-trailer, a man and woman in a car and another man in a car, all believed to have been from out of state.
The names of those killed will be released by state police as soon as a positive identity is made and families are notified.
“Right now we’re 99.8 percent sure, but we want to be 100 percent sure,” he said. “We expect all identifications and notifications to be made in the near future.”
State police in Frackville said earlier that the crash, which occurred during “an active snow squall” at about 10:30 a.m. Monday, involved 39 commercial vehicles and 41 passenger vehicles. Two dozen people were taken to four hospitals. The highway was closed until early Wednesday morning.
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The crash was captured in videos posted on social media that showed drivers and passengers lining the snowy road and jumping out of the way as the cascade of crashes unfolded. In one video, an out of control tractor-trailer smashed into a large dump truck, another large truck caught fire and spewed black smoke, and a sport utility vehicle hit a passenger car, sending it spinning narrowly past a person standing on the shoulder in snow and fog.
Some vehicles were mostly burned and others melted onto the highway, hampering efforts to clear the scene. Authorities also said they needed to go through each vehicle to make sure there were no human remains.
Barnes and Deputy Coroner Erin Cuff told the newspaper that after firefighters extinguished the flames, the large amount of water used turned to ice. That hampered the recovery of the victims, and nightfall made the job even more difficult, they said.
Cuff recalled that one of the victims had a cross in his hand.
“It made me wonder if he was alive when the fire started and knew he was going to die,” Cuff said.