As WCBS-TV's Lou Young reported from the scene of the accident, the horror of it was all to evident: The crumbled bus on its side, rescue workers inside the bus comforting concious survivors while others tried to free bodies trapped beneath the wreckage. It was an operation that went on for hours in the bitter cold.
State Police spokesman Lt. Bob Manney said the bus, from Bruin Transportation in Brooklyn, was traveling southbound in the express lanes when the driver lost control and the vehicle went through the guardrail and flipped on its side on an embankment between the express and local lanes...crushing some of the passengers in the process.
The first people to arrive on the scene weren't rescue workers, however. They were employees from the nearby rest area.
One minute they were thinking about finishing their shift this Christmas Eve. The next, they were running blankets and tools down to the accident trying to help the injured and dying.
Numerous emergency response vehicles went to the scene, and traffic in the area was snarled.
"It was a mess. Bodies everywhere..the bus was on its side. We had to treat people as soon as possible," said rescue worker Joe McKevitt.
At the crash site, rescuers frantically dug for survivors pinned underneath the twisted wreckage of the bus. They pulled out dead bodies one by one and covered them white sheets.
"I can confirm at least eight people dead," said New Jersey State Police Sgt. Al Della Fave. Another 22 people were injured, he said, and many of the injuries were serious.
The driver was one of the injured and was hospitalized, state police said. Several people were evacuated by helicopter.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known although Della Fave said excessive speed, driver fatigue or a medical problem suffered by the driver were possible causes.
He did not rule out that weather was a factor. An accumulation of 1 to 2 inches of snow had fallen in the area overnight, and residents said some roads were slick.
The accident occurred about 20 miles south of midtown Manhattan. Traffic on the Garden State parkway, which stretches north and south the length of the state, was slowed for several miles.
©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report