HAWTHORNE, Calif. — A fuel tanker truck crashed and burned early Friday on a freeway near Los Angeles International Airport, killing two people and causing a massive traffic jam that forced travelers to abandon their vehicles and walk off the freeway with their luggage, authorities said.
The California Highway Patrol received reports of the crash involving the double-tanker truck and an SUV followed by a fireball on the westbound side of Interstate 105 in suburban Hawthorne shortly after 5 a.m. Both vehicles' drivers were killed.
Authorities initially worried they might find more bodies in the twisted and burned wreckage, but none were found.
The pre-dawn crash turned the morning commute into chaos on the south side of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Both sides of the freeway and a Metro light rail commuter line that runs down the middle of the highway were shut down as authorities let the fire burn itself out.
Some motorists got out of their cars and others tried to drive off the freeway by using on-ramps as exits.
Shortly after 6 a.m., the California Highway Patrol's online incident log reported that people were abandoning vehicles, taking luggage and jumping over fences alongside the freeway. It is a major southern approach to the airport.
An unidentified traveler showed KTTV where she climbed a steep embankment and over a tall fence to get off the freeway. KTTV reported she missed her flight but was assured she would be rebooked.
Undamaged eastbound lanes reopened after nearly three hours, while emergency work continued on the westbound side for more than 12 hours.
The westbound lanes finally reopened shortly before 8 p.m. The commuter rail line remained closed.
Before the westbound side was reopened, engineers were summoned to determine whether lane markers could simply be restored or whether pavement was so badly damaged it would need to be dug out.
Damage assessment was also conducted on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's adjacent Green Line tracks and the overhead electrical system.
Meanwhile, buses were sent to ferry rail passengers around the crash area.
Fuel had to be carefully removed from a trailer tank that overturned but did not burn. County Fire Department Inspector Joey Marron said vent holes had to be drilled in the tank's three compartments so that the fuel could be pumped out.
As some people remained trapped in their cars for hours, a taco truck that had also been caught up in the traffic jam opened for business and began serving food to commuters.
Interstate 105 runs east-west across southern Los Angeles County, intersecting with four other major freeways.