Firefighters pulled passengers from the wreckage after the city bus collided with a Dahlia tour bus in the Flushing neighborhood shortly after 6 a.m. EDT (1000 GMT), according to the New York City Fire Department.
Authorities said speed may have been a factor in the crash.
“As you have observed, these buses spun around. That requires an enormous amount of speed,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota said at a news conference. “The MTA driver is in the hospital in a non-critical condition and he is being spoken to right now by investigators.”
One unidentified bystander was pinned beneath the wreckage and died at the scene. The driver of the tour bus and a passenger in one of the buses were later pronounced dead at area hospitals, Lhota and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at the news conference.
The remaining victims suffered injuries ranging from critical to minor. Officials said firefighters extinguished a small fire that began after the crash.
The NYPD is investigating what caused the collision.
“We don’t know enough yet about the specific details,” de Blasio said. “We do not yet have a reliable videotape to work from.”
Photos posted online by the fire department showed the two buses had slammed into the corner of a Kennedy Fried Chicken restaurant.
The tour bus was traveling east on Northern Boulevard when the city bus, which was carrying 15 passengers, tried to make a right turn on the same street, police said. It was not clear how many passengers were on the tour bus.
“Just shocking to see the scene over there,” de Blasio said. “Hard to compare to anything I’ve ever seen.”
A representative from Flushing-based Dahlia Group Inc., a private tour bus company, declined to comment.