Seven people, including a teenage boy, died today when the roof was ripped off their minibus in a “particularly harrowing” motorway crash.
Two other passengers from the minibus, a woman and a child, were fighting for their lives in hospital and four others were injured in the crash on the M56 near Manchester Airport.
The white minibus which appeared to have hit the central reservation of the busy motorway in several places.
Its roof could be seen embedded in the safety barrier, several yards behind the spot where the minibus came to rest. Suitcases were strewn around the scene.
Emergency workers surrounded the minibus wreckage with green canvas.
The vehicle, thought to have been full of holidaymakers, had been travelling towards Manchester Airport.
The crash involved the minibus and three other vehicles and happened at around 5.40am.
The six injured were taken to nearby Wythenshawe Hospital.
A spokeswoman for Greater Manchester Police said accident investigators were working at the scene, around 400 metres from Junction 4 of the M56, near Wythenshawe, to determine how the crash happened.
The crash caused virtual gridlock in the area.
The westbound carriageway of the motorway was completely closed between Junctions 2 and 4, while only one lane was open eastbound.
The slip road where the M56 joins the circular M60 around Manchester also ground to a halt following the accident, the spokeswoman said.
Motorists were warned of severe delays and were urged to find alternative routes into the city.
Ian Bailey of the Greater Manchester Fire Service said it was a “particularly harrowing scene”.
He said that the seven people who died were all travelling in the minibus towards Manchester Airport.
None of the seriously injured were thought to have been travelling in the other three vehicles involved, although witnesses said one of the cars looked severely damaged.
A spokesman for the AA in Manchester said the whole of south Manchester and parts of neighbouring Cheshire were gridlocked with traffic.
He said: “The airport have said flights are still going ahead on time and if passengers miss their flight because of the delays, they should go straight to their airline desk.”
The Princess Parkway, a main route into Manchester city centre, was blocked by four lanes of traffic at a standstill.
Motorists were told to avoid the area, expect delays and try alternative routes.
Ambulance service spokesman Derek Cartwright described it as a scene of ``utter carnage'', with debris spread across the motorway.
He told Sky News: “It’s quite a scene. I have to say there are probably 60 or so emergency personnel on scene here and there is a silence amongst people.
“It is a very, very difficult experience for people to take in.”
He said he thought those involved in the crash may have been holidaymakers heading to the airport.
“It is the utter carnage that is striking at the scene this morning. There is debris spread probably 150 yards up the motorway.”
Mr Cartwright said the last ambulance had now left the scene with some of the fatalities on board.
Dozens of emergency workers remained at the scene as the massive operation to clear up after the accident got under way.
Three cars could be seen sprawled across the westbound carriageway and hard shoulder.
A trailer believed to have been carrying the minibus party’s luggage as it made its way to Manchester Airport could also be seen behind it.
Luggage and debris was scattered across the motorway for up to 30 yards behind the vehicle.
It is believed that the Leyland Daf minibus collided with another vehicle before careering into the central reservation as it made its way to the airport.
Police officers arrived at the scene almost immediately and began giving first aid, assisted by a passing male nurse who had stopped to help.
Four of the injured were taken to Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport while the two critically injured people were rushed to nearby Wythenshawe Hospital.
The seven who died, including a teenage boy, had all been passengers on the minibus, police said.
Paddy O'Leary, the general manager of the Britannia Country House Hotel, in Didsbury, Manchester, confirmed that the minibus had been travelling from his hotel.
“The minibus was travelling from the hotel and carrying passengers who were going on holiday,” he said. “We do not have any other information about the passengers at this time.”