All the victims were inside the vehicle, a New York police spokesman said. The crash occurred near the Bronx River Parkway and East 180th Street.
“The vehicle hit the median and went across all lanes of traffic in the opposite direction,” the spokesman said. He described the drop from the ramp as “substantial.”
The victims include an elderly couple; two other women, including a 45-year-old driver; and three girls, ages 15, 5 and 3, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said. It was not immediately clear how they were related to one another.
All the victims were wearing seat belts, Browne said. Their names were not released pending notification of family members.
An eyewitness told authorities it wasn’t apparent what caused the vehicle, a white Honda Pilot SUV, to strike the barrier and plunge off the road, according to a law enforcement official.
But Browne said the driver was likely speeding when the left side of the SUV hit the barrier and she overcompensated, making a hard right turn and crossing three lanes of traffic. The vehicle then struck the curb and sailed some 60 feet through the air before plunging the same distance to the ground, he added.
Zoo spokeswoman Mary Dixon said the vehicle landed just inside the southeast perimeter of the 265-acre zoo. A baby bag with diapers inside was found at the scene.
“It’s far from any public area,” Dixon said. “No animals, exhibits or visitors were affected. … It would be impossible for any visitors to see this.”
The area where the vehicle fell is adjacent to where the zoo’s trams are parked, FDNY Deputy Chief Ronald Werner said.
The fire department’s Howard Sickles told reporters that in his 20 years he’s “seen a lot of horrific things and this is one of them.”
The crushed vehicle came to rest in overgrown brush, Werner said. Authorities used thermal imaging cameras to find victims in case any had been ejected, he said.
Authorities received multiple calls about the incident at about 12:30 p.m., Werner said.
The vehicle was heading southbound on the Bronx River Parkway at the time of the incident, according to the NYPD.
In 2006, six people died in an accident on the Bronx River Parkway near the site of Sunday’s crash.
By the CNN Wire Staff
CNN’s Miguel Susana, Steve Kastenbaum, Ross Levitt and Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.
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