The cause of the Rainbow Bridge deadly vehicle explosion remains something of a mystery, with investigators now exploring whether a mechanical failure in the car could be to blame.
A New York couple, who have not been publicly named, were both killed on Wednesday when their speeding Bentley rammed into the border crossing along Niagara Falls, which connects the US and Canada.
The blast instantly sparked fears of a terrorist attack, prompting Canadian and US officials to briefly close all four border bridges between the two nations and ground planes at nearby Buffalo Airport.
Hours later, the FBI Buffalo office and New York Governor Kathy Hochul said that there were no signs that the incident was terror-related.
Now, two days on, investigators are still working to piece together what caused the deadly crash which has left the couple’s upstate New York community in mourning.
Robert Restaino, the mayor of Niagara Falls, told The New York Times that the Bentley the couple was driving in was an older model and may have experienced some sort of mechanical glitch that caused it to suddenly accelerate as it approached the border checkpoint.
However, a spokesperson for the American arm of Bentley Motors told the paper that the automaker was yet to hear from investigators about the incident.
Whatever the cause, getting to the bottom of what happened could take time as the car was effectively incinerated in the fireball blast.
On Thursday, Niagara Falls Police Department – which is now leading the investigation after the FBI found no signs of terrorism – carried out an accident reconstruction, including retracing the last known movements of the couple.
The couple, both in their 50s, had been planning to attend a KISS concert in Toronto on Wednesday night, law enforcement sources previously told CNN.
But the gig was cancelled earlier in the day due to frontman Paul Stanley becoming ill with the flu, and so the couple stopped by the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino instead.
The Seneca Nation, which owns and operates the casino, told The Independent it was cooperating with law enforcement to review and hand over any information related to the vehicle.
It was after a brief stop at the casino that the vehicle made the mile-long, ill-fated trip towards the US-Canada border crossing.
Dramatic footage captured the vehicle speeding up before it hit a curb on the US side of the border, flew into the air and travelled over a fence before crashing into a border patrol booth.
The car instantly burst into flames with thick black smoke and roaring flames billowing up to the sky.
Authorities confirmed that two people were killed in the blast and a Border Patrol agent also suffered minor injuries.
In a press conference on Wednesday evening, Ms Hochul said she would not go so far as to declare the blast an “accident” just yet as the probe continues but that the two people killed were local residents with no ties to terrorism. No other potential motive had been discovered.
“I want to be very, very clear to Americans and New Yorkers, at this time there is no indication of a terrorist attack,” Ms Hochul said.
She added: “Based on what is happening in the world, everyone is on edge. This is an international border. I won’t call it an accident yet. All we know is there was a horrific incident, a crash, a loss of life – but at this time: no known terrorism activity.”
The FBI’s Buffalo division also released a statement saying that no explosives had been found at the scene and that “no terrorism nexus was identified”.
The bureau said it had turned the investigation over to the Niagara Falls Police Department as a traffic investigation.
The three other bridges – the Peace Bridge, the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and the Whirlpool Bridge – connecting New York state and Canada reopened on Wednesday after being shuttered for a few hours. The Rainbow Bridge finally reopened to the public on Thursday.
As of Friday morning, the couple has not been publicly identified but they are known to have lived in the upstate New York community of Grand Island, where they owned several businesses.
Devastated friends, neighbours and loved ones in the upstate New York community of Grand Island have spoken out paying tribute.
The couple’s friend Chuck Meyer told WGRZ of his shock when he learned that the tragedy broadcast on national news involved those close to him.
“I got home yesterday (Wednesday). I didn’t know anything other than hearing things on the news about the border, and then saw that their driveway was filled up with all these cars,” he told the local outlet on Thursday.
“I thought, ‘Oh, they’re having Christmas or Thanksgiving early, and like, that’s really nice.’ And then about an hour later, heard the news and I’m like, ‘oh my God.’”