An apartment balcony crowded with birthday revelers collapsed early on Tuesday near the University of California at Berkeley, hurling five Irish college students and an American friend to their deaths and injuring seven others, authorities said.
The victims, most of whom were working in the San Francisco Bay area on temporary visas for the summer vacation, had been celebrating a friend's 21st birthday on the fourth-floor balcony when the accident occurred, according to local police and Irish government officials.
Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan told a news conference about 12 hours after the collapse that there was "no indication of criminal activity or criminal intent." Authorities said they were investigating a number of factors, including the structural integrity of the balcony and whether alcohol may have played a role.
Meehan said police had received a complaint of a loud party at the residence less than an hour before the tragedy. Thirteen people were on the small balcony when it gave way, plunging 12 meters to the street below, with some victims landing on top of one another, officials said. Three men and three women died, and the seven others remained hospitalized on Tuesday.
Berkeley police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats described the injuries as "very serious and potentially life-threatening." Pictures from the scene showed the fallen deck pancaked onto a third-story balcony beneath it at the Library Gardens apartment complex, about two blocks from the UC Berkeley campus across the bay from San Francisco.
The balcony, slightly wider than the double-doors leading out to it and no more than 1.5 meters deep, had been rated to safely carry a maximum weight of 293 kg per square meter, a city spokesman said, adding there was no requirement for the building owners to post a limit for the number of people it could hold.
Splintered wooden beams and torn insulating material were left visible from where the balcony deck detached from the building's outer wall and fell onto the balcony on the floor below.
No one was on the third-floor balcony at the time, and no one on the ground was hurt, police said.
Following the collapse, authorities declared all similar balconies in the complex off-limits as a precaution.
Phil Grant, the San Francisco-based Irish consul for the U.S. West Coast, said news of the accident had left citizens all over Ireland "frozen in shock and disbelief."
"It's deeply, deeply tragic, and it touches every family in Ireland," he said.
The victims were among the thousands of students from Irish universities who travel to the United States on temporary working visas every summer before returning home to complete their studies.