Tunnel collision linked to speed

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Five persons, including four young men from the West Coast town of Ørsta, were killed Sunday night when two cars collided inside the world’s deepest underwater tunnel at Eiksund, western Norway. Police have yet to determine a cause of the crash, but highway officials reportedly are linking it to excessive speed.

Newspaper VG reported Tuesday that investigators at the state highway department (Statens vegvesenet) have a theory that the young men’s car, a Mercedes 220, was traveling at between 150 and 200 kilometers per hour (kph, about 90-120mph) when it hit a tunnel wall, flipped over and catapulted out of control down into the three-lane tunnel. It then crashed into an oncoming vehicle, a VW Caravelle, driven by a 52-year-old father of three.

The Mercedes is believed to have burst into flames. Police believe all five men died immediately. Police had said shortly after the crash that one of the vehicles ended up on the roof of the other.

Highway officials wouldn’t confirm VG’s report, but have said that all security equipment inside the tunnel was in good working order at the time of the collision. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that speed has been an issue inside the tunnel, not least because it has a steep vertical descent.

Ørsta Mayor Gudny Fagerhol, who called the collision “a major tragedy” for the community, said she will renew calls for speed cameras to be set up inside the tunnel, to dissuade motorists from driving too fast.

The four men in the Mercedes, all from the Ørsta area, were aged 23 to 30, while the man in the VW was from Ulstein. VG reported the four men were on their way home from a party, but police said they had no immediate reason to suspect drunk driving.

The nearly eight-kilometer-long Eiksund Tunnel opened just last year, connecting the townships and islands of Ulstein and Ørsta in the county of Møre og Romsdal. The tunnel replaced a ferry between Eiksund and Rjåneset and reaches a depth of 287 meters, making it the deepest underwater tunnel in the world.

Smoke billowed from the tunnel openings after the collision, and both the smoke and heat delayed rescue crews from reaching the scene. The tunnel re-opened Monday morning after clean-up efforts continued through the night. Crisis teams were set up to aid families and friends of all five victims.