San Francisco: A bride and four friends died desperately trying to scamble out of a rented limousine which burst into flames en route to a party in California celebrating her wedding, a coroner said Monday.
The victims' bodies were found up against the partition between the back of the limo and the driver's compartment of the vehicle, which caught fire on Saturday night while driving across a bridge near San Francisco.
The limo driver and four women managed to escape the burning vehicle, but the bride, reportedly from the Philippines, and four members of her bridal shower perished in the blaze, according to news reports, which said all the women were nurses.
"They were found forward of the limousine in between the partition, the passenger compartment and the driver's compartment," said San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault.
"When we got there ... they were up against the partition," he told reporters, giving more details on the tragedy.
He added: "They were getting away from the fire and that's why they were in the front, towards the partition, and you could also probably say that they were trying to get out."
"This is one of the most horrific things I've seen in 21 years with this office," Foucrault was quoted as having said Sunday by the San Francisco Chronicle.
The newspaper reported that the woman for whom the bridal shower was thrown had recently married and had planned to return to her native Philippines for another ceremony next month.
But for unknown reasons, the party-bound vehicle - which was en route to a wedding shower in nearby Foster City - burst into flames on the San Mateo Bridge, just south of San Francisco.
The dead women, all in their 30s and 40s, included newly-wed Neriza Fojas, 31, of Fresno, according to the Chronicle, which quoted the deceased woman's sister.
The driver, named as Orville Brown, said that he pulled over a couple of hundred yards from the end of the bridge when one of the women alerted him to the smell of smoke, the newspaper said.
He helped some of the survivors to safety but was unable to save the women in the back. "We got out by the grace of God. I just wish that I could have done more," the newspaper cited him as saying.
"It's something you never imagine will happen."
The coroner declined to report on press reports that the victims included nurses.
"We are working to determine a cause and manner of death, and part of our investigation will determine employment. That has not been determined at this point," he said.