Deadly mass crash closed highway

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UPDATED: Five cars and at least one truck were involved in a dramatic collision on the heavily trafficked E18 highway west of Oslo Thursday morning. One person was killed, several more were severely injured and the main artery into Oslo was closed in both directions. Police later arrested a man who fled the scene, suspecting that he caused the accident.

Police found the man outside a nearby shopping center. He’d been driving a van that’s believed to have tried to pass a truck on the four-lane divided highway. Instead, he collided with the truck, sending them both out of control at high speed and into the lanes of oncoming traffic.

Moreover, the van was found to be fully loaded with alcohol, including cases of beer and liquor bottles. Debris from the cargo was found littered over the area, and suspicions of smuggling rose immediately around the man now under arrest.

Police said it was too early, though, to draw any conclusions. “Right now it’s the collision itself that’s in focus,” local sheriff Arne Lauvålien told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

NRK initially described the scene of the massive crash as chaotic. Several helicopters, fire trucks, ambulances and police were on the scene, airlifting victims to local hospitals and attending to the injured. At least two persons were pinned inside their vehicle.

Marianne Mørch of the Søndre Buskerud Police District told NRK shortly after the crash, which occurred around 6:30am, that investigators already believed one vehicle tried to pass the semi-trailer truck on the westbound portion of the highway heading for Drammen. When the vehicle instead collided with the truck, both lost control and crashed over the center barrier dividing the four-lane highway.

The car and truck then collided with several cars in the opposite lanes that were heading into Oslo as the morning commuter rush got underway. The accident occurred near Liertoppen, where speed limits are as high as 100 kilometers per hour and the truck caught fire.

Police quickly started searching  for the man witness saw run from the scene, immediately suspecting he set off the tragic chain of events. He was arrested near the nearby Liertoppen shopping center and taken into custody for questioning. Magne Lie, operations leader of the Søndre Buskerud Police District, told NRK it was too early to say what charges would be filed against him.

The E18 highway was still closed at midday, causing a major challenge for tens of thousands of commuters and all others traveling on the busy stretch between Oslo and Drammen.  Cars involved in the mass crash were towed away, but investigators still had a lot of work to do as they collected evidence and charted the sequence of events. Police were urging motorists to be patient.

“Those stuck in the queue have to wait until the situation is clarified,” Tore Bråthen of the state highway department (Statens vegvesen) told NRK. “They may be sitting here for several hours.”

Alternative routes were along the old highway that now serves mostly as a frontage road to the E18, or the Oslofjord tunnel between Drøbak and Hurum. Motorists could also take a long detour via Sylling and Sollihøgda to connect to the E16 highway that meets the E-18 at Sandvika.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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