- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

AIROLO, Switzerland At least 10 persons died yesterday when two trucks crashed head-on in Switzerland's Gotthard tunnel, causing an inferno filling the world's second-longest road tunnel with acrid black smoke.
Fire and ambulance workers, who had struggled to get near the site of the collision because of thick smoke and intense heat, battled to find any further victims as the blaze raged in one of Europe's vital freight links through the Alps.
"There are 10 dead" and several injured, said a police official in Airolo at the southern end of the 10-mile, two-lane tunnel. Parts of the tunnel's roof had collapsed.
The tunnel was closed after the accident. That will likely cause massive transportation disruption since the Mont Blanc tunnel between France and Italy was closed after a 1999 fire. The Mont Blanc tunnel was due to open by the end of the year, but no exact date has yet been set.
Officials were unable to say how long the Gotthard tunnel would remain closed.
"It's certainly not a matter of just a few hours," an official at the tunnel's road maintenance office said. A police official said the tunnel was likely to remain closed for "several days."
Truck driver Marco Frisch-knecht, whose vehicle was not one of those involved in the collision, had a narrow escape and told reporters of his nightmare experience.
"Suddenly there was smoke. I couldn't see a thing. I tried to reverse like many others, but it was not possible. It was chaotic," he said from his hospital bed.
"I left the truck and felt my way along the wall [of the parallel safety tunnel]. It was very hot. There was smoke everywhere," said Mr. Frischknecht, who had been traveling north just a few yards behind one of the crashed trucks.
Black smoke billowed out of the southern end of the tunnel and police warned residents of Airolo to stay indoors and close their windows.
"A fire broke out because one of the two lorries [trucks] was transporting tires. There is a really foul smell from the smoke and it is preventing rescue teams from entering," an Airolo police official told reporters.
Swiss officials had repeatedly complained that the Mont Blanc closure had led to significantly increased traffic on other key north-south routes such as the Gotthard.

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