NASA van rolls into canyon in So Cal; 3 dead

/ Source: The Associated Press

A commuter van from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory tumbled 200 feet (60 meters) off a twisting mountain road Wednesday, killing three people and injuring seven, two critically, authorities said.

The van was carrying 10 people to the laboratory when it plunged off the Angeles Crest Highway in the Angeles National Forest about 6:30 a.m. PT and rolled down a mountainside about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of downtown Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Fire Department inspector Ron Haralson said.

Notified by a driver who saw the crash, two California Highway Patrol officers at a nearby movie shoot scrambled down to the vehicle and called for rescue workers who ripped the van apart to get to the injured passengers.

One person was hurled from the van and died at the scene. Two others died inside the van, where other victims were left hanging from windows or trapped under a collapsed roof for as long as an hour, authorities said.

“It’s one of the most gruesome scenes I’ve ever seen,” said Mike Leum, chief of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department search and rescue team. “There was a complete collapse of the roof onto the passenger area.”

'Very, very sad day'
The van was carrying six employees of the lab in Pasadena, two contractors and two NASA employees, said Blaine Baggett, a spokesman at JPL, which is the control center for several NASA projects, including the Mars rovers.

Killed were Jane Frances Galloway, 49, of Lancaster; Kerri Lynn Agey, 48, of Ontario, and Dorothy Marie Forks, 53, whose hometown was not released.

“It’s a very, very sad day for all of us at JPL,” Baggett said, adding that employees will be offered grief counseling.

Seven people were hurt; two were in critical condition at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.

Cause unclear
The cause of the accident was not immediately known. Clouds and fog shrouded the site, at an altitude of about 1,500 feet (450 meters). Snow dotted flanks of the mountain, but the road itself was clear.

Hundreds of cars a day travel the highway, a twisting, two-lane blacktop with steep drops. Commuters living in the Antelope Valley area northeast of Los Angeles use it as a shortcut to reach a freeway in Pasadena.

About 450 of the 5,500 people who work at JPL participate in its vanpool program, which involves about 30 vans, Baggett said.