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Italy mourns 38 killed in coach crash

Italy was preparing on Monday to bury 38 people killed when a coach carrying pilgrims plunged off a flyover near Naples, as investigators said they will examine the driver's body for traces of drugs and alcohol.

Italy mourns 38 killed in coach crash
38 have been confirmed dead in a coach crash near Naples. Photo: AFP/Carlo Hermann

Local prosecutors have launched an investigation into possible manslaughter over Sunday evening's accident near the town of Avellino on the busy highway between Naples and Bari in southern Italy.

The ANSA news agency said the manslaughter probe would look into the possible role of the driver, as well as the state of the coach and the crash barrier on the highway.

ANSA said the driver's body would be examined for the possible presence of alcohol or drugs while traffic police have seized the vehicle documents from the coach operator Mondotravel.

Relatives and friends gathered at a nearby school where the bodies of their loved ones were laid out in the gymnasium, ahead of funerals to be held on Tuesday.

Rescuers have cleared the last of the wreckage from a wooded area off the road, where a row of beige seats patterned with blue swirls had lain, streaked with blood.

The coach, carrying 48 people including children, rammed several cars before it plunged off a viaduct through a crash barrier and down a slope about 50 kilometres from Naples in an area described as an accident black spot.

President Giorgio Napolitano described the accident as "an unacceptable tragedy" and called for improved road safety standards.

Police said 38 people had died, including the driver, although Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi had put the number of dead at 39.

Another 10 passengers were injured, along with another nine people in cars hit by the coach before it careered off the road.

The group was returning from a pilgrimage to Pietrelcina in the Campania region of southern Italy, the birthplace of Padre Pio, an Italian priest canonised in 2002 and worshipped in the country's south.

A small wooden cross was left by a wellwisher at the site of the crash, propped up near a bunch of roses.

Passengers' belongings had littered the ground, including a hat, shoes, and a child's teddy bear.

The accident was the deadliest in western Europe in a decade and the worst in Europe since an October 2010 incident in Ukraine when 45 people died.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta, on a visit to Athens, said it was a "very sad time" for Italy and observed a minute's silence in honour of the victims before addressing a conference in the Greek capital.

"This tragedy has profoundly moved our country… it is an open wound," he said. "I am grieving for and express my profound sorrow to the families of the victims".

The prime minister is due to visit the crash site on Tuesday, after returning from Greece.

Rescue workers pulled 33 bodies from the wreckage and found three more thrown from the vehicle as it plunged 30 metres down a slope.

Another two died in hospital of their injuries.

Photographers at the scene said about a dozen wrecked cars were strewn across the motorway, which had been closed to traffic.

"Looking down from the overpass, the scene of the tragedy: some 30 bodies covered by white sheets, lined up along the roadside," said Cesare Abbate of ANSA.

One survivor, quoted by his uncle who met him in hospital, reported hearing a tyre exploding and that the driver had been unable to control the vehicle.

The last major coach accident in Europe was in March 2012 in Switzerland, when a coach carrying Belgian schoolchildren home from a skiing holiday crashed, killing 28 people, including 22 children.

Funerals for the Italians will take place in the town of Pozzuoli where many of the victims lived.

A party to celebrate the unveiling of the Naples football squad wascancelled out of respect for the victims, and a minute's silence was to be observed before the team's friendly against Turkish team Galatasaray in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The accident came just days after a train crash in Spain last Wednesday which killed 79 people, the deadliest rail disaster in the country in decades.

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FOOTBALL

‘I represent the nobodies’: How Maradona became the hero of Naples

Few places will mourn the death of Diego Maradona as much as Naples, the downtrodden, gritty Italian city that clasped the troubled Argentine to its heart at his time of need and was repaid with the best years of perhaps the greatest footballer to ever play the game.

'I represent the nobodies': How Maradona became the hero of Naples
Maradona has long been a hero and icon in the city of Naples. Photo: AFP

Buildings around Naples are adorned with depictions of the man who took Napoli to the top of the Italian game and beyond and became an icon and spokesman for Neapolitans, whose chaotic city was feared and loathed in equal measure by the rest of Italy.

“I feel like I represented a part of Italy that didn't count for anything,” he said in 'Diego Maradona', the 2019 Asif Kapadia documentary about his life in Naples.
 
 
So deep was 'barrio boy' Maradona's attachment to Naples that he called Napoli's first ever league title, won a year after he led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup, the “greatest triumph” of his career.
 
Surrounded by jubilant fans on the pitch of Napoli's Stadio San Paolo, he explained why: “I won this one at my home.”
 
Maradona's achievements at Napoli, who had been also-rans until he arrivedin 1984 following a difficult two-year spell at Barcelona, cemented his position as the greatest player of his generation and, in many peoples' eyes, make him the best ever.
 
Diego Maradona on his arrival in Italy in 1984. Photo: AFP
 
Another league title in 1990, the 1989 UEFA Cup, and an Italian Cup also arrived during Maradona's seven years in southern Italy.
 
Maradona's 115 goals in all competitions was a club record that stood for 26 years and his heroics came at a time when Serie A was the world's
strongest, richest league, where the likes of Michel Platini and Zico strutted their stuff.
 
He fled in disgrace in 1991, a failed drugs test, an unrecognised son and a billion-lira tax dispute all left back in Naples, where his penchant for late-night parties, cocaine and women were almost as famous as his magical displays on the pitch.
 
Camorra links
 
Courted by criminals, the King of Spain and even the Pope, Maradona became a quasi-religious figure in Naples. He brought joy to a desperately poor city blighted by bloody conflicts between the competing clans of the powerful Camorra mafia, one of whom Maradona would get to know very well.
 
Indeed the 1984 signing of a genuine superstar by Napoli – who were heavily in debt and had finished 11th the previous season – immediately raised eyebrows, with persistent rumours that a chunk of the world record $10.48 million fee that brought him to Italy came from the Camorra's deep pockets.
 
 
The opening question in his first press conference came from a reporter who asked a confused Maradona whether he knew about the Camorra and its “influence
on football” and was immediately ejected by livid club owner Corrado Ferlaino.
 
“I never asked for anything from the Camorra, they gave me the security of knowing that nothing was going to happen to my two children,” Maradona
insisted in a 2017 interview to Italian TV station Canale 5
 
Murals dedicated to Maradona adorn the walls of apartment buildings in central Naples. Photo: AFP
 
However his access to drugs and women came thanks to the infamous Giuliano clan, who immediately befriended Maradona, furnished his burgeoning cocaine
habit and went to great lengths to make sure they were photographed partying with the world's most famous footballer.
 
Maradona himself admitted that every week he would binge from Sunday night until Wednesday, beginning an intense detox programme each Thursday that would get him ready for the following weekend's match.
 
It took Napoli two years to provide Maradona with teammates capable of challenging for honours, and when the title came in 1987 it caused such wild
celebrations that stories of a summer-long party became as famous as the triumph itself.
 
In reality the city came to a standstill for around a week. To this day Neapolitans name their sons after a football god they've only seen play on old VHS players and YouTube.
 
Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris with Diego Maradona in 2017. Photo: AFP
 
Another title arrived three years later before it all began to fall apart, not long after he and the Argentine national team enraged Italy by dumping the
'Azzurri' out of the 1990 World Cup in the semi-finals – in Naples of all places.
 
His problems had begun some time before. He had tired of the suffocating attention Naples afforded him and in 1989 had signed terms with Marseille, only for Ferlaino to put a stop to the transfer at the last minute.
 
 “After a four-hour meeting, Ferlaino said that if we won the UEFA Cup I could leave, but we won it, and he blocked the move anyway,” Maradona said in
2009.
 
However after the 1990 World Cup he had become a hate figure in Italy and his support network slowly melted away. In February 1991 police announced he
had been caught on wiretaps asking for cocaine and prostitutes from a mob figure. A trumped-up drugs trafficking charge soon followed.
 
The failed drugs test that finished him off came after a match with Bari two months later, and an unprecedented worldwide ban from the game until June
1992 left him back to Buenos Aires, never to reach the same heights again in his career.
 
But he remained an icon in southern Italy, and received a hero's welcome on subsequent visits to the city of Naples.
 
In 2017, he was made an honorary citizen by the city's mayor, Luigi de Magistris.
 
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