7 Dead in Van Plunge off Bronx River Parkway Over Zoo

It's not clear what caused the van to go off the parkway

Seven people died after a van flew off the Bronx River Parkway and into a ravine on the grounds of the Bronx Zoo Sunday afternoon, officials tell NBC 4 New York. 

Three of the victims are girls, ages 12, 10 and 3, according to fire officials. The other victims were an 84-year-old man and three women, ages 80, 45 and 30.

"I've been in the Fire Department 30 years, and sometimes you come upon events that are horrific, and this was one of them," said Deputy Chief Ron Werner. "When you see young kids that have been hurt or injured or lose their life, it's always harder than if you find someone of an older age."

Witnesses told police the van was traveling southbound on the Bronx River Parkway at about 12:30 p.m. when it hit and bounced off the left median near exit 5, shooting across to the right side of the parkway. The van then hit a cement base and went over the guardrail, plunging more than 50 feet.

It landed in the remote ravine of the Bronx Zoo tram yard, in a non-public southeast area of the 265-acre park. There were no animals or people on the ground.

NYPD highway accident investigators estimated the van was traveling approximately 70 miles per hour when it hit the median, according to law enforcement sources. The 45-year-old woman was driving the van, and all the passengers were wearing seat belts.

The wreck was the deadliest in New York City since the driver of a tour bus returning from a Connecticut casino in March of 2011 lost control and slammed into a pole that sheared the bus nearly end to end, killing 14 passengers.

Last June, an SUV plunged off the Bronx River Parkway in the same area, hurting two people inside the vehicle. That SUV lost control, hit a divider embankment and bounced through two lanes of traffic to plunge 20 feet down over a guard rail.

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